Briefline

Bennet bill would create new federal commission to oversee Big Tech

By: - May 12, 2022 1:56 pm

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet makes a stop at Confluence Park in Denver on Aug. 24, 2021. (Chase Woodruff/Colorado Newsline)

A new federal commission formed through legislation introduced by Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet would focus on regulating large digital platforms and protecting consumers, creating guardrails on one of the nation’s largest industries.

The Digital Platform Commission Act, introduced today, would create a five-member body of commissioners selected by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. It would have the authority to hold hearings, conduct investigations, create rules and impose penalties in order to promote and protect the public’s interest on social media sites and other digital platforms.

“It’s past time for a thoughtful and comprehensive approach to regulating digital platforms that have amassed extraordinary power over our economy, society, and democracy,” Bennet said in a statement.

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“We don’t have to choose between letting digital platforms write their own rules, allowing competitors like China and the E.U. write those rules, or leaving it to politicians in Congress. We should follow the long precedent in American history of empowering an expert body to protect the public interest through common sense rules and oversight for complex and powerful sectors of the economy.”

Just as the Federal Communications Commission was created in the wake of emerging telecommunication technology in the 1930s, the Digital Platform Commission would be a response to the enormous impact that platforms like Facebook and Twitter have on society and the economy. Right now, the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission oversee digital platforms, but perhaps not on an appropriate scale, Bennet argues.

The bill text asserts that unregulated operations of the largest digital platforms have at times led to harming small businesses, “abetting the collapse of trusted local journalism,” enabling addiction, undermining privacy, monetizing personal data and radicalizing its users.

The commission’s goal would be to protect consumers, promote competition and assure the fairness and safety of algorithms that can become addictive, in an effort to be proactive on these issues rather than continuing the history of reactive solutions from the government.

It would create a “Code Council” made up of experts who would offer specific technical standards and policies and would also be empowered to designate “systemically important digital platforms” that would be subject to extra scrutiny.

“The protection of citizens in the online world would benefit from a federal regulatory agency with the necessary authority to take appropriate action, and we appreciate Senator Bennet’s leadership in facilitating an important discussion about the need for and shape of federal legislation in this space,” Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat, said in a statement. “To be sure, state enforcers have undertaken and are taking important actions to combat the harms of large social media platforms. Going forward, however, it is clear that optimal and effective oversight will ultimately require a federal regulatory framework and federal action.”

Supporters of the first-of-its-kind legislation say transparency requirements for Big Tech are increasingly important as sites become more enmeshed in everyday life.

“Digital platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok have become the way people get information and have civic conversations, but misinformation about the pandemic, public health, elections and more are polluting our online spaces and having real-world negative impacts in our communities,” Colorado Media Project Advisor Nancy Watzman said in a statement. “Unlike other industries, digital platforms are subject to very few requirements for transparency and accountability. We welcome proposals such as Sen. Michael Bennet’s, as well as public conversation about oversight for digital platforms now and in the future.”

The commission would work with an initial budget of $100 million in its first year and work up to a $500 million budget over five years.

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Sara Wilson
Sara Wilson

Sara Wilson covers state government, Colorado's congressional delegation, energy and other stories for Newsline. She formerly was a reporter for The Pueblo Chieftain, where she covered politics and government in southern Colorado. Wilson earned a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and as a student she reported on Congress and other federal beats in Washington, D.C.

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