Anti-hate groups are worried language could be added to a new Illinois law that would hold social media platforms to a specific standard when it comes to giving posts a platform. The law would target comments that violate the “community standards” of a social network.
The law would also require social networks to start taking down posts from advertisers on an individual basis after 28 days.
Currently, state law requires online platforms to take down posts that are “indecent, harmful, discriminatory, hateful, racially or sexually abusive, false, or misleading.” The new law would require that these standards be applied to posts of a different nature, which is likely what content control teams at social media platforms have been worried about.
“Many social media platforms are looking at the consequences of this law for their business and their user base,” said Johnathan Greenblatt, the executive director of the Commission on Human Relations in Illinois.
Many of the groups opposed to the new law told lawmakers that the proposed changes to the law are overbroad and could have negative consequences for free speech. Representative Tom Cullerton, a Democrat who sponsored the bill, said that he wanted to fix the law and keep the focus on combating hate speech.
“I don’t have a problem with the state criminalizing hate speech,” he said. “I am against the state criminalizing free speech.”
While the original bill had two specific types of offenses that could be prosecuted under the law — defamation and violating a “community standard” — it is now splitting into two groups: criminal and civil ones. Now, the civil offense is that a social network “shall” provide platform to a post that is deemed to be in violation of a standard.
But organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center said that this distinction could still mean that an online platform can claim that a post is “not a violation of community standards,” which can be a loophole for highly offensive and hateful content.
“They’re going to have a hard time determining what’s a violation of community standards and what’s not a violation of community standards,” said Heidi Beirich, the director of intelligence at the SPLC.
The legislation also specifies that there should be no statute of limitations on civil liability. The bill has passed both the Illinois House and Senate, but the process of getting it to a governor’s desk is still months away.
Correction: A previous version of this article said that the language describing how online platforms are required to take down posts from advertisers on an individual basis after 28 days. In fact, that has not been added yet.