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A bill from a top Senate Republican would ban larger tech companies, such as Twitter and Facebook, from blocking competing internet platforms and from discriminating against users’ political affiliation.
The legislation from Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) is the first attempt by lawmakers to reel in large technology platforms’ content moderation authorities after decisions by Twitter Inc., Facebook Inc., and Alphabet Inc.‘s YouTube to block Donald Trump from their platforms for incendiary comments related to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by the former president’s supporters.
Wicker, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, announced the bill in a press conference Thursday with fellow Republican senators, including Sen. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), a vocal critic of large tech companies. The bill currently has no cosponsors.
The bill would only apply to large tech platforms, exempting smaller platforms with fewer than 100 million active users and making less than $500 million in annual revenue.
It would specifically prohibit large platforms from discriminating against a user or entity based on political affiliation, racial, sexual, religious, or ethnic grounds. The bill would also ban platforms from blocking or discriminating against competing internet platforms, by declaring such actions as presumptively anticompetitive.
The measure would authorize the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the provisions in the bill under Section 5 of the FTC Act, which allows the agency to investigate “unfair or deceptive acts or practices.”
A platform would be required to disclose management practices, performance characteristics, and the commercial terms of service of any app store, cloud computing service, operating system, search engine, or social media network it owns.
NetChoice, a tech trade group that represents Twitter and Facebook, quickly opposed the bill.
“Rather than protecting Americans’ free speech rights, the PRO-SPEECH Act will transform the FTC into the internet speech police and social media into a weapon for foreign agents to spread dangerous misinformation,” Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel at NetChoice, said in a statement.
Wicker’s bill doesn’t go as far as a bill (S. 1384) introduced earlier this year by Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) classifying the social media companies as common carriers, similar to telecommunication companies, which would bar them from discriminating over the content on their platforms. Hagerty’s measure would also repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and replace it with a much more narrow immunity law.
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