Biden Calls on Congress to Cease Immunity for Social Media

President Biden welcomed guests to the White House last week for the inaugural United We Stand Summit, an event to combat hate speech and violence. “There are core values that should bring us together as Americans, and one of them is standing together against hate, racism, bigotry, and violence that have long haunted and plagued our nation,” Biden told the bipartisan group. Participants gave the president a standing ovation when he specified that he will work to “hold social media companies accountable for spreading hate.” “I’m calling on Congress to get rid of special immunity for social media companies and impose much stronger transparency requirements,” Biden said. Continue reading Biden Calls on Congress to Cease Immunity for Social Media

Proposed Legislation Drafted to Restore Net Neutrality Rules

With efforts to fill the vacant FCC seat and tilt the commission back to a Democratic majority, the Senate is poised to try an alternate path to realizing the party’s longtime goal of restoring net neutrality rules. Championed by Senators Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), the Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act proposes to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service, which would open up companies including AT&T and Verizon to stricter FCC oversight. Internet service providers would be prevented from blocking or throttling content, while pricing and privacy would also receive scrutiny. Continue reading Proposed Legislation Drafted to Restore Net Neutrality Rules

TikTok Draws Criticism for Undisclosed Sponsored Content

TikTok is facing blowback for lax advertising disclosures. While the platform offers various ways to identify paid promotion, its marketing policies appear to operate on an honor system, and while some creators label their posts as advertising or partnerships, many do not. Where a financial relationship exists with regard to products mentioned, the truth in advertising rules enforced by the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general require media partners to disclose that funds will change hands. As part of a renewed national interest in digital consumer protections, particularly related to child safety, the area is getting increased scrutiny. Continue reading TikTok Draws Criticism for Undisclosed Sponsored Content

Obama Takes Up Mantle of Social Media Regulatory Oversight

Former President Barack Obama sounded a warning against unregulated Big Tech in a speech last week at Stanford University near Palo Alto, California. Cautioning that the power of social media giants to curate information has “turbocharged” political polarization, Obama said the imbalance of power threatened the very pillars of global democracy itself. “Tech companies need to be more transparent about how they operate,” Obama said. “So much of the conversation around disinformation is focused on what people post. The bigger issue is what content these platforms promote.”  Continue reading Obama Takes Up Mantle of Social Media Regulatory Oversight

Senate Wants Social Firms to Pay for Holding Back Research

The U.S. Senate has introduced the bipartisan Platform Accountability and Transparency Act (PATA), which if passed into law would allow independent researchers to sue Big Tech for failing to provide requested data. The move follows last week’s Instagram hearing, where leaked internal research suggested the platform’s negative effects on the mental health of teens. On December 6, an international coalition of more than 300 scientists sent an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg — CEO of Meta Platforms, the company that owns Instagram and Facebook — requesting the social behemoth voluntarily share research. Continue reading Senate Wants Social Firms to Pay for Holding Back Research

Government Questions Liability Shield Offered by Section 230

The U.S. House of Representatives is signaling intent to proceed with legislation to scale back the Section 230 liability shield for Big Tech. The move follows a frontal assault on Australia’s version of the law by the Parliament and global saber-rattling against protections that prevent social platforms being held legally accountable for user-posted content that harms others. At a Wednesday hearing on various Section 230 bills, House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey) said that while the protections were vital to Internet growth, they have resulted in anti-social behavior. Continue reading Government Questions Liability Shield Offered by Section 230

Lawmakers See Solution in Regulating Facebook’s Algorithm

U.S. lawmakers agitated by the recent testimony of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen and related media reports are homing in on the social network’s News Feed algorithm as ripe for regulation, although First Amendment questions loom. The past year has seen Congress introduce or reintroduce no fewer than five bills that expressly focus on software coding that decides who sees what content on social media platforms. In addition to the U.S., laws advancing the idea of regulating such algorithms are gaining momentum in the European Union, Britain and China. Continue reading Lawmakers See Solution in Regulating Facebook’s Algorithm

Facebook Whistleblower Fuels Interest in Tougher Tech Laws

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s Senate testimony Tuesday appears to have fueled congressional desire to pass new regulations on Big Tech. At a hearing titled “Protecting Kids Online,” the inquiry expanded well beyond teens’ mental health, ranging from obsequious algorithms to Chinese surveillance of Uyghur populations, COVID-19 vaccine disinformation and speech leading to January’s Capitol insurrection. Calling Facebook “morally bankrupt,” Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) said “Big Tech is facing its Big Tobacco moment,” and urged Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify. Continue reading Facebook Whistleblower Fuels Interest in Tougher Tech Laws

Coalition Says No to Internet Company Shields in Trade Deals

Public Citizen, Color of Change and the Center for Digital Democracy are three of the 16 public interest groups that sent a letter to President Joe Biden warning that liability protections for Internet companies in trade agreements will cripple efforts to hold such companies accountable for user content. At the American Economic Liberties Project, which also signed the letter, policy director Morgan Harper said that such a ratified trade deal could confirm and propagate controversial legal protections for Internet companies. Continue reading Coalition Says No to Internet Company Shields in Trade Deals

Florida Passes Legislation to Restrict Social Media Platforms

Florida just passed a new law, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis, that makes it illegal for Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other social media platforms to permanently bar political candidates from their sites. The law, which was crafted in response to Facebook’s and Twitter’s ban of former President Donald Trump in January, will impose a $250,000 per day fine. The law also makes it illegal to prevent posts in response to stories on their platforms. The law will likely face a constitutional challenge in the courts. Continue reading Florida Passes Legislation to Restrict Social Media Platforms

Senate Judiciary Committee Grills Tech Execs on Algorithms

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s panel on Privacy, Technology and the Law pressed executives from Google’s YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter this week on how user content is shared via algorithms that can be misused. The top Republican on the panel, Senator Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) stated that the use of such algorithms are “driving us into poisonous echo chambers.” Congress is currently considering the fate of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which protects platforms from liability for what their users post. Continue reading Senate Judiciary Committee Grills Tech Execs on Algorithms

Justice Thomas Argues Big Tech Be Regulated Like Utilities

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that tech platforms be regulated like utilities, in a concurrence he wrote to a decision to vacate a lower court’s ruling about former President Trump’s Twitter account. “There is a fair argument that some digital platforms are sufficiently akin to common carriers or places of accommodation to be regulated in this manner,” he wrote. Regulating such platforms like utilities could force them to make changes to current moderation policies against hate speech and harassment. Continue reading Justice Thomas Argues Big Tech Be Regulated Like Utilities

Congress Grills Big Tech Executives on Accountability Issues

Prior to a House hearing on social media’s role in extremism and disinformation, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg submitted written testimony on Section 230, suggesting that “platforms should be required to demonstrate that they have systems in place for identifying unlawful content and removing it.” Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act holds that platforms are not liable for content posted by their users. In a bipartisan effort, lawmakers are pushing for change. “Our nation is drowning in disinformation driven by social media,” suggested Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pennsylvania). “We will legislate to stop this.” Continue reading Congress Grills Big Tech Executives on Accountability Issues

Bill Could Make Net Neutrality Law Under New Administration

Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) plans to introduce a bill in the next few weeks that would make net neutrality a law. “The coronavirus pandemic has proven that broadband is as essential as electricity and other utilities,” he said. “We need to restore net neutrality protections to ensure that our Internet remains open and free and that consumers can continue to benefit from this critical infrastructure.” Many Republicans still oppose net neutrality, and its existence has largely been subject to who chairs the FCC. Continue reading Bill Could Make Net Neutrality Law Under New Administration

Section 230 Faces Bipartisan Scrutiny and Potential Updates

At the very end of his presidency, Donald Trump tried to strike down Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which essentially provides online platforms with immunity from liability based on third-party content. He failed, but Congress has received 20 proposals to update or change the section. On February 5, three Democratic senators introduced a bill to make social media firms accountable for enabling cyberstalking, harassment and discrimination. More recently, Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and John Thune (R-South Dakota) plan to reintroduce the PACT Act, a proposal to jumpstart change. Continue reading Section 230 Faces Bipartisan Scrutiny and Potential Updates