For the time being, attention in Congress on “Big Tech” issues has moved away from social media content moderation and 47 U.S.C. 230 (Section 230.) The current focus in Congress seems to be on data protection and privacy legislation and a pair of antitrust bills pending in the Senate. However, there are a number of bills that would change how the United States (U.S.) government regulates any number of aspects of the online world. And yet, the outlook for enactment of some of the more ambitious bills remains low, and it is my belief that to the extent any bill to more tightly regulate online platforms gets passed, it will be a more modest piece of legislation, likely one that may address how the process of how platforms moderate content and information about these processes and how content is promoted or demoted. The bill we will examine today falls into this latter group.
In December 2021, Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) released the text of the Platform Accountability and Transparency Act (PATA) but still have not formally introduced the bill. In any event, this bill would focus on requiring large platforms to turn over more information and data about their workings to researchers and regulators. In what may be a sign that the bill could be marked up, the Privacy, Technology, and the Law Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearingyesterday titled “Platform Transparency: Understanding the Impact of Social Media.” Coons chairs the subcommittee and explained the rationale for the PATA Act in his opening statement:
§ Social media companies, as we all know, play an enormously important role in our lives and in our society. They have helped to connect billions of people across the world and deliver a whole range of new and innovative services, in ways that provide tremendous value to individuals, families and communities.
§ At the same time, there are critical questions about the potential negative effects these platforms may have, concerns about propagation of misinformation, incitement of violence or serious impacts on their self-concept or mental health.
§ A central issue that we face in confronting these questions, whether as a consumer, as a parent, or as policymakers, is what are the facts? What are the actual facts?
§ Right now, we don't really have a well-grounded, data driven understanding of how social media platforms are impacting us in our society.