Legislators Continue Their Scrutiny of Big Tech, Social Media

Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) has introduced a new bill, the Digital Platform Commission Act, which proposes the establishment of a five-person commission to protect consumers in the Big Tech era. This, even as attorneys for groups representing Facebook and Twitter on Friday filed with the U.S. Supreme Court an emergency request to block Texas House Bill 20. The companies argue the law compels social platforms to disseminate propaganda and misinformation, including racist and pro-Nazi screeds. Calling HB 20 “an assault on the First Amendment,” the companies claim its implementation could undo billions in development.

The Supreme Court filing by trade groups NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association seeks to reverse a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to let the law go into effect last week by shelving the temporary injunction put in place by a U.S. District Court in December.

The Fifth Circuit “short-circuited the normal review process, authorizing Texas to inflict a massive change to leading global websites,” Bloomberg reports the tech groups wrote in their emergency filing.

Among the companies represented in the emergency action are Twitter, Google parent Alphabet and Facebook parent Meta Platforms. “In the past, YouTube and Facebook ‘lost millions of dollars in advertising revenue’ from advertisers who did not want their advertisements next to ‘extremist content and hate speech,”’ the groups wrote in the filing, according to Bloomberg. “Texas Governor Greg Abbott and other Republicans argue the law is needed to protect conservative viewpoints from being silenced.”

Meanwhile, initiated on the other side of the aisle, the Digital Platform Commission Act would create a new federal agency with “the power to interrogate the algorithms powering major tech platforms, and to set new rules to ensure the biggest companies are transparent about how they handle thorny decisions around content moderation,” reports The Washington Post, which notes “consumer advocates have called for such a body for years, after tech companies were embroiled in scandals.”

Regulators’ current focus on antitrust issues leaves unaddressed problems like  “foreign disinformation, children’s safety and the potentially radicalizing effect of platform and product designs,” WaPo writes. “The bill represents a growing awareness that the federal government is consistently outmatched in resources and tech skills when examining massive Silicon Valley companies.”

The bill comes as consumers and legislators protest what often seems like unfettered power by Big Tech. The Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department act to rein-in the tech sector but are often more reactive than proactive and typically move slower than the industry.

Citing industry experts, The Post says a tech-focused agency “could bring more independence to oversight of the tech companies, because it would include commissioners from both parties, much like the FTC or Federal Communications Commission.”

Big Tech Lobbyists are Crying Wolf in a Desperate Bid to Avoid Competition, Newsweek, 5/17/22
Big Tech Urges U.S. Top Court to Block Social Media Law Curbing Political Opinion, Yahoo, 5/16/22
Big Tech Is Fighting a New Texas Law Targeting Social Media — Here’s What Happens Next, Yahoo, 5/16/22
Tech Platforms Have Struggled to Address Live Shootings. New Legislation Could Make It Impossible, CNN, 5/16/22

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