Proposed Law Would Create New Duty of Care for the Digital Platforms, Including Transparency, Disclosure and a Requirement to Engage with Publishers

NewsGuard’s ratings and Nutrition Labels are designed to help the platforms fulfill exactly these obligations, including giving publishers the required ‘meaningful opportunity to respond’

(September 25, 2020—New York City) The U.S. Department of Justice on Sept. 23 proposed reforms to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that would for the first time create a duty of care on the part of digital platforms related to how they remove, suppress or otherwise affect content on their platforms, including news and information. The proposal is reported to have bipartisan support, meaning that some version has a good chance of being enacted regardless of the results of the 2020 elections.

Under the proposal, which mirrors similar proposals being considered in the United Kingdom and by the European Union, platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok would have to establish their “good faith” by complying with new requirements. For the first time, the platforms would have to disclose their criteria for moderating content, show that they apply their criteria consistently—not on “deceptive or pretextual grounds”—and give publishers “timely notice describing with particularity the provider’s reasonable factual basis for the restriction of access and a meaningful opportunity to respond.”

The digital platforms currently fail to meet the requirements for earning the “good faith” safe harbor against liability. 

In contrast, NewsGuard’s journalistically trained analysts rate news and information sites based on nine fully disclosed criteria, including credibility, providing trustworthiness scores of 0-100, with green and red ratings, with a Nutrition Label explaining the ratings in detail and including responses from publishers. In addition, NewsGuard maintains a transparent catalog detailing all the leading misinformation and hoaxes online in a product called the Misinformation Fingerprints™, which can be applied through the artificial intelligence tools used by digital platforms to identify all the content on their platforms that require correction or other mitigation. The Misinformation Fingerprints™ product is also used by cybersecurity firms and disinformation researchers.

The approach NewsGuard has taken since its founding in 2018 is based on adherence to full disclosure of criteria, applying the criteria equally to all in an apolitical manner, and always contacting publishers for comment before failing them on any criteria to explain the issue and providing an opportunity for the publishers to respond. Put simply, when NewsGuard rates news and information websites, it applies nine fully disclosed criteria, applies them equally and alerts publishers of any apparent failure on any of the criteria. Publishers are given the opportunity to respond, and these responses are included in the Nutrition Label explaining the rating. 

“Platforms that already provide NewsGuard’s ratings and labels, such as Microsoft’s mobile Edge app and the Edge browser extension, already comply with the proposed criteria. The other digital platforms can also provide NewsGuard ratings and labels to their users,” said NewsGuard co-CEO Steven Brill. “These platforms can also use NewsGuard’s Misinformation Fingerprints™, which catalogs all the top hoaxes and misinformation, enabling the platforms to mitigate the harm of hoaxes displayed to their users. These fingerprints are determined using a fully transparent approach.”

Currently, the platforms use undisclosed algorithms to remove or suppress certain content and promote other content. Publishers have complained that they often are not aware when platforms suppress their content and when they become aware cannot determine the reason for the actions by the platforms. Publishers are given no opportunity to have their responses published. This lack of transparency has reduced trust in the platforms.

“NewsGuard is the opposite of a secret algorithm. Our criteria are disclosed, our labels are fully transparent, we always contact publishers before identifying failures to comply with our disclosed criteria, and these publishers can always have their responses published as part of our assessment,” said co-CEO Gordon Crovitz. “We’re delighted when publishers ‘game our system’ in order to improve their scores. More than 800 news and information websites have improved their ratings by making improvements to their practices in one or more of our nine criteria after engaging with NewsGuard analysts.”

The proposed reforms to Section 230 are similar to proposals in the United Kingdom and Europe to create new duties of care by the digital platforms. The UK has proposed new online harms legislation and European Commission has promulgated a “Code of Practice on Disinformation,” both targeting digital platforms.

NewsGuard’s ratings and labels have been licensed by technology companies such as Microsoft, internet providers such as BT (British Telecom) and education companies such as Turnitin for their customers. These ratings, labels and the Misinformation Fingerprints catalog of all the top hoaxes and misinformation are available to be licensed by the digital platforms.

About NewsGuard

Launched in March 2018 by media entrepreneur and award-winning journalist Steven Brill and former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz, NewsGuard provides credibility ratings and detailed “Nutrition Labels” for thousands of news and information websites. NewsGuard rates all the news and information websites that account for 95% of online engagement across the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, and Italy. NewsGuard products include NewsGuard, HealthGuard, and BrandGuard, which helps marketers concerned about their brand safety, and the Misinformation Fingerprints catalog of top hoaxes.

NewsGuard rates each site based on nine apolitical criteria of journalistic practice, including whether a site repeatedly publishes false content, whether it regularly corrects or clarifies errors, and whether it avoids deceptive headlines. It awards weighted points for each criterion and sums them up; a score of less than 60 earns a “Red” rating, while 60 and above earns a “Green” rating, which indicates it is generally reliable.

NewsGuard’s ratings and Nutrition Labels can be licensed by internet service providers, browsers, news aggregators, education companies, and social media and search platforms in order to make NewsGuard’s information about news websites available to their users. Consumers can access these ratings by purchasing a subscription to NewsGuard, which costs $2.95/month and includes access to NewsGuard’s browser extension for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox and its mobile app for iOS and Android. The extension is available for free on Microsoft’s Edge browser through a license agreement with Microsoft, and NewsGuard’s ratings can also be accessed free through the Edge mobile browser. Hundreds of public libraries globally receive free access to use NewsGuard’s browser extension on their public-access computers to give their patrons more context for the news they encounter online. For more information, including to download the browser extension and review the ratings process, visit newsguardtech.com.