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Clarke Calls For Public Comment To Help Protect Civil Rights Online

Washington, D.C. — Today, Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09) called for public comment on the discussion draft for her upcoming bill, the Civil Rights Modernization Act of 2021. The bill will amend Section 230 of the Communications Act to ensure that civil rights laws apply to the targeting of advertisements.

There is a history of discriminatory targeting of advertisements that has harmed society by allowing consumers to be excluded from seeing certain ads. These harms are not theoretical and occur in real-time – with particularly troubling implications for communities of color. Personal data such as gender, race, hobbies and interests, and zip code are used to limit the online visibility of many opportunities, thus perpetuating inequities in housing opportunities, credit and employment.

“Harmful advertising practices that target communities of color, women, and other marginalized groups are increasing in scale and consequence. To comprehensively address these civil rights implications, Section 230 must be reformed. This draft is a necessary step to addressing civil rights violations during these unprecedented times,” said Clarke.

“I applaud Congresswoman Clarke’s efforts to tackle this difficult and important issue,” said Congressman Mike Doyle, Chair of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee. “We know all too well how marketing efforts have been targeted to exclude marginalized groups from voting, housing, job opportunities, and other beneficial economic activity. Modern technology makes addressing this challenge even more essential. We have seen through the pandemic, the racial justice movement, and the events that led to the attack on the Capitol on January 6th — as well as so many more issues that we have discussed over the last several years — that online platforms need greater accountability. I plan to work with my colleagues on the Committee to release additional proposals that together will form a comprehensive package to help reform existing law and ensure that online platforms are working to benefit our democracy and not against it.” 

As a first step in examining broader Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act reform, Clarke calls for public comment on her discussion draft to make thoughtful considerations to protect the American public’s civil rights. If you are interested in providing a comment, please email NY09Press@mail.house.gov by February 5, 2021.

The full bill text of the discussion draft can be found here

Organizational Support

“Social media platforms have argued for an overly broad interpretation of Section 230 that would allow them to escape liability when they deploy their algorithms to target ads for housing, employment, and financial services toward white users and away from users of color. This is wrong. The Civil Rights Modernization Act of 2021 makes clear that social media companies are not immune from landmark civil rights laws. This thoughtful and tailored [discussion draft] addresses a real problem, and it represents a major step in advancing platform accountability,” said Spencer Overton, President, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Professor of Law, George Washington University

“Free Press Action welcomes the draft’s focus on the civil rights violations that platforms’ own targeting of advertisements can cause, separate and apart from the information contained in those ads. We look forward to continuing discussions like these about clarifying and strengthening our civil rights framework for preventing abusive and discriminatory data practices,” said Gaurav Laroia, Senior Policy Counsel, Free Press Action.

“I commend [Congresswoman Clarke for] the Civil Rights Modernization Act of 2021. For over 45 years, it’s been illegal nationwide to exclude people from getting ads for jobs, housing, and credit due to their race, sex, or other protected statuses. This [discussion draft] will ensure that no online platform can claim immunity for profiting from the illegal targeting of ads. It underscores that the internet is not a civil rights-free zone,” said Peter Romer-Friedman, a principal of Gupta Wessler PLLC and former labor counsel to Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

“The violent Capitol attack made clear that the rules governing the internet need to change, as insurgents easily organized on multi-billion-dollar digital platforms with business models that incentivize the spread of violent clickbait conspiracies,” said Color Of Change President Rashad Robinson. “Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was written on a foundational principle of a free, fair, and open internet — which allows advocates like Color Of Change to challenge powerful interests that enable harm to Black communities. But it was never meant to shield enormously powerful tech companies from accountability. The Civil Rights Modernization Act of 2021 proposed by Rep. Clarke is a measured step in the right direction to ensuring that the immensely profitable digital ads business that fuels social media platforms is not allowed to flaunt bedrock civil rights protections.”

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Yvette D. Clarke has been in Congress since 2007. She represents New York’s Ninth Congressional District, which includes Central and South Brooklyn. Clarke is a Senior Member of the House Committees on Energy and Commerce, and Homeland Security.

Media contact: Remmington Belford Remmington.belford@mail.house.gov c: 202.480.5737