Congress Tries to Tame Big Tech: Anti-Trust, Content Regulation, and Privacy Protection: Part I

Technology Policy Brief #84 | By: Inijah Quadri | April 28, 2023

Header photo taken from: ft.com

This Brief introduces a new series of US RENEW NEWS reports on the challenges involved in regulating big tech. The Brief provides an overview of the key challenges involved in such regulation — content moderation, privacy protection, and anti-trust regulation. In subsequent Briefs in this series, we will take an in-depth look at each of these issues.

Policy Issue Summary

Big tech companies, such as Meta (formerly Facebook), Twitter, TikTok, and various right-wing platforms like Truth Social and Parler, have dominated the digital landscape and transformed the way people communicate and share information. While these platforms have undeniable social and economic influence, concerns have arisen over their monopolistic practices, content moderation policies, and privacy issues. As a result, the U.S. Congress has been pushing to regulate these giants and protect consumers. This Brief provides an in-depth analysis of congressional efforts to address anti-trust issues, content regulation, and privacy protection within the social media industry.

I. Anti-Trust Measures

In this section, we discuss the various concerns and proposals regarding the monopolistic practices of Meta, Twitter, TikTok, and other social media platforms. Congress has been examining their acquisitions, market power, and influence to ensure a competitive environment and prevent anti-competitive behavior.

Meta has faced scrutiny from Congress due to its massive market power and acquisitions of new tech companies. Lawmakers argue that these acquisitions have resulted in an uncompetitive market and reduced innovation. As such, proposals have been made to break up the company, as well as establish clear guidelines for future acquisitions to prevent monopolistic behavior.

Similar to Meta, Twitter has been accused of wielding too much influence in the social media space, which has led to calls for more stringent anti-trust measures. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had proposed preventing companies like Twitter from engaging in self-preferencing practices that disadvantage competitors.

Additionally, Congress is examining acquisitions and mergers in the broader social media industry, including TikTok and right-wing platforms like Truth Social and Parler. Of particular concern is TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, due to its foreign ownership and potential national security threats. As the platform and others gain popularity, these investigations aim to identify anti-competitive practices and ensure a level playing field for all companies.

II. Content Regulation

Content regulation is a critical issue in the social media landscape, and this section focuses on the ongoing debates and proposals related to Section 230 reform, political advertisements and misinformation, and content moderation policies. The goal is to strike a balance between protecting users from harmful content and preserving the platforms’ ability to facilitate free expression.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act provides immunity to internet platforms from liability for user-generated content. However, there are increasing calls to reform this law to hold platforms more accountable for harmful content, misinformation, and the spread of extremism.

Congress is also working to create regulations that increase transparency for political ads, limit microtargeting, and tackle the spread of misinformation. Legislation, such as the Honest Ads Act, aims to promote transparency and disclosure requirements for political advertising on social media.

Also, the inconsistency of content moderation policies across platforms has prompted Congress to push for clearer guidelines and increased accountability. Lawmakers are considering proposals that require platforms to be transparent about their moderation policies and processes.

III. Privacy Protection

Privacy protection is a growing concern, as users become increasingly aware of how their data is being collected and used. This section explores congressional efforts to develop comprehensive data privacy legislation and promote algorithmic transparency, aiming to provide users more control over their personal information and create a more transparent digital ecosystem.

Congress is working on comprehensive data privacy legislation to protect user information and establish strict guidelines for data collection, usage, and sharing. While some of these practices are being implemented in several states, there is yet to be cohesion across the board. This unified legislation would give users more control over their personal information and set penalties for companies that violate privacy rules.

In addition to the above, concerns over algorithmic bias and the lack of transparency in how algorithms shape user experiences have prompted congressional efforts to require platforms to disclose their algorithmic processes. This would enable users to better understand the factors influencing the content they see and provide an opportunity to challenge potential biases.

Conclusion

Lobbying efforts by big tech companies and their affiliated organizations have significant influence over the legislative process. Despite these efforts, there is still a chance that Congress can pass meaningful legislation to address the industry’s various issues, particularly if public pressure mounts and lawmakers find common ground. The ultimate success of these legislative efforts will depend on the ability to navigate partisan differences, overcome industry resistance, and respond to public demand for change.

Engagement Resources

Click or tap on the resource URL to visit links where available

AP News: (https://apnews.com/article/technology-business-san-jose-mark-zuckerberg-e34551315b4e04cb13771d8e214bd4b1)

CNBC: (https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/31/big-tech-spends-20-million-on-lobbying-including-on-coronavirus-bills.html)

Congressional Research Service: (https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R46875

ED Markey: (https://www.markey.senate.gov/news/press-releases/senator-markey-rep-matsui-introduce-legislation-to-combat-harmful-algorithms-and-create-new-online-transparency-regime)

ICLG.com: (https://iclg.com/practice-areas/data-protection-laws-and-regulations/usa#:~:text=There%20is%20no%20single%20principal,Code%20%C2%A7%2041%20et%20seq.)

Investopedia: (https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/regulating-economy.asp)

ScienceDirect: (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0267364923000018)

The Guardian: (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/dec/09/facebook-lawsuit-antitrust-whatsapp-instagram-ftc

The New York Times: (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/08/us/politics/think-tanks-research-and-corporate-lobbying.html)

The Sling: (https://www.thesling.org/the-antitrust-case-against-elon-musks-twitter/)

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