Social Media

6 Terrible New Tech Bills in Congress

While expressing concern for free speech and privacy, lawmakers are seriously threatening both.

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Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) has taken a lot of heat for a recent proposal to ban autoplay videos in the name of stopping "social media addiction." But Hawley's new "SMART Act" may not even the nuttiest tech bill to grace Capitol Hill this year.

From the "Bot Disclosure" and "Biased Algorithm Deterrence" Acts, to net neutrality for speech on social media, new ways for the feds to snoop on user data, and a bill that could kill the teen YouTube star, legislative proposals from both Democrats and Republicans display a fundamental ignorance of the internet coupled with a willingness to micromanage even the smallest aspects of digital data and design. Here are six of the worst.

Protecting Children from Online Predators Act of 2019 (S.1916)
Sponsor: Josh Hawley

Hawley's idea of "protecting children from online predators" is to prohibit social media from recommending any videos that feature anyone under age 18. Teen video makers couldn't rely on algorithms to recommend any of their content. Sites like Facebook would be prohibited from recommending family videos featuring children to grandma and grandpa.

Across the board, the bill—introduced in June—would make it  illegal for any computer service "that hosts or displays user-submitted video content, and makes recommendations to users about which videos to view," to "recommend any video to a user of the covered interactive computer service if [the company] knows, or should have known, that the video features 1 or more minors."

Biased Algorithm Deterrence Act of 2019 (H.R.492)
Sponsor: Rep. Louis Gohmert (R–Texas)

The so-called "Biased Algorithm Deterrence Act" would discourage web services from displaying content in anything but chronological order. Under Gohmert's bill, any "social media service that displays user-generated content in an order other than chronological order, delays the display of such content relative to other content, or otherwise hinders the display of such content relative to other content" could face huge criminal and civil liabilities.

The bill, introduced back in January, would amend the federal law known as Section 230 to say that doing any of the above or otherwise using algorithms to determine how third-party content is displayed makes a company legally liable for that content. Users would have no choice in how content on the apps and sites they use would be displayed.

Bot Disclosure and Accountability Act of 2019 (S.2125)
Sponsor: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)

Feinstein's bot bill, introduced last month, alleges that in order "to protect the right of the American public under the First Amendment," candidates and political parties would be barred from using any "automated software program or process intended to impersonate or replicate human activity online" (it's not quite clear what precisely that means) and that everyone must disclose to the federal government the use of any such software. The Federal Trade Commission FTC would be in charge of setting specific rules for the disclosure of this activity.

For now, the bill lays out this somewhat confusing guidance: the FTC will require "a social media provider to establish and implement policies and procedures to require a user of a social media website owned or operated by the social media provider to publicly disclose the use of any" so-called bots. People running such accounts would have to "provide clear and conspicuous notice of the automated program in clear and plain language to any other person or user of the social media website who may be exposed to activities conducted by the automated program." And companies would have to develop tools to help people disclose bot status, as well as "a process to identify, assess, and verify whether the activity of any user of the social media website is conducted by an automated software program or process."

The result would likely be a huge crackdown on the automated scheduling tools that many organizations and people use in perfectly benign ways all the time–all in the name of avoiding a small number of malicious actors who certainly aren't going to play by the U.S. government's bot-labeling requirements anyway.

Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act (S. 1914)
Sponsor: Hawley, again

This June bill from Hawley is ostensibly about preventing online "censorship," but "ESIC" would actually put the Federal Communications Commission in charge of determining what constitutes politically neutral content moderation and link curation, and it would deny Section 230 legal protections to large companies that don't fit the bill.

If ESIC passes, companies would be discouraged from investigating and filtering out abusive, hateful, threatening, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable content, and would instead be incentivized to simply delete content flagged by any other user, regardless of what rules or norms the content did or did not violate. Check out my recent article on Section 230 for more on how the law works and why Hawley is wrong about it.

To amend section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 … to stop censorship, and for other purposes  (H.R. 4027)
Sponsor: Rep. Paul Gosar (R–Ariz.)

Gosar's as-yet-untitled bill was introduced on July 25 and still has no full text. But judging from his statements about it, we can expect it to be moderately-to-extremely dumb. In tweeting about the bill, Gosar doesn't even accurately describe the law it's meant to modify, claiming that Section 230 makes some sort of distinction between "platforms," which are allowed "discretion for removing content," and "publishers," who are not allowed this discretion because "they monetize their users' content." This is not accurate.

Gosar goes on to say his bill would tweak language in Section 230 that makes it explicit companies can "restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable." He says it would revoke the part about "objectionable" material. This bit gives companies broader protection for content moderation efforts than they might have if only permitted to moderate based on obscenity, violence, or harassment.

Under Gosar's vision of social media regulation, there would basically be two settings for social-media users: see everything, or stay on a strictly G-rated version of the internet. Users could choose, Gosar tweeted, between "a self-imposed safe space, or unfettered free speech."

Designing Accounting Safeguards To Help Broaden Oversight and Regulations on Data (S.1951)
Sponsor: Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)

Warner's bill would define digital entities that profit off of user data as "commercial data operators" and require those with "more than 100,000,000 unique monthly visitors, or users" in the U.S. to regularly provide each user with an individual data valuation estimate. At least every 90 days, companies would have to share with each user "an assessment of the economic value that the commercial data operator places on the data of that user."

The bill would also require these companies to report to the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission the aggregate value of user data, along with information on all data-sharing contracts with third parties and "any other item the Commission determines, by rule, is necessary or useful for the protection of investors and in the public interest."

NEXT: Brickbat: What a Dick!

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  1. Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) has taken a lot of heat for a recent proposal to ban autoplay videos in the name of stopping “social media addiction.”

    reason hardest hit!

    It’s funny that reason has web traffic fallen off so much that the remake of the website a few months ago led to autoplay videos to try to act like people read the stupid staff articles and pay attention to advertising. FYI: People don’t.

    reason also might get more people to like the website if Libertarian-centric writers were hired, writers like Shikha fired, and no autoplay videos. I would think those autoplay videos slow down rural viewers who have limited bandwith.

    1. 1. Chrome
      2. Ad Blocker Plus
      3. Keep the sound on mute while on Reason.
      4. Don’t worry, be happy.
      (I have no advice for the babblings of the sock drawer)

      1. I just click the videos off with certain devices.

        I still its funny that advertisers want to give reason money because they think people pay attention to advertising on reason. Someday advertisers will figure it out.

          1. I just use it on my phone. Works great on that.

    2. Shikha continuously being published surprises me.

    3. Reason might offer lower ad rates for Libertarian products (and increase such content by Supply & Demand). As it is, libertarians either compete with Antichoice Televangelism, Dixiecrat Revivalism, Econazi Soft Machines or seek other venues. Sure, it’s nice to be noticed and infiltrated by Fifth Columnists bearing cash and poniards, but why help them elbow aside our voters, supporters and subscribers?

  2. I think congress should be more liberal on cyber security and tech companies.

  3. Oh geez. The bad ideas on regulating the Internet are proliferating, aren’t they?

  4. You could have just said “6 Tech Plans in Congress”. It’s Congress, so the terrible is a given.

  5. Common sense internet legislation would require all social media users to take (and pay for at their own expense) one or more courses on communication skills, interpersonal courtesy, spelling, grammar, the necessity of multiple named, verifiable, and reliable sources, and world history. Upon presenting proof of taking and passing these basic skill classes, and passing a full background check (also at their expense) the person could petition the local sheriff for a web permit, along with the non-refundable fee of a few hundred dollars. If the person was granted permission by the sheriff, they could register a social media account, using only their true identity, and post twice a day. If the sheriff denies the request for any reason, there would be no appeal.
    Assault posters, those posting over twice a day, or having more than one account, would have to pay an additional fee for a renewable permit, and be subject to a search of their access device(s), phones, tablets, watches, computers, or ‘whatever is next’, at any time.
    All funds collected would be used to hire monitors to conduct random checks to be sure the posts are kind, truthful, and compliant with the current ruling party dictates.

    1. one or more courses on communication skills, interpersonal courtesy, spelling, grammar, the necessity of multiple named, verifiable, and reliable sources, and world history.

      I believe that’s called “highschool”. Or supposed to be, anyway.

      I realize your comment is offered tongue-in-cheek, but a more thorough knowledge of history and stronger critical thinking skills by everyone would be a benefit overall.

      1. Looking back at my parochial school education, one should have most, if not all, of those skills at some level by the time they are out of 8th grade. I still remember getting a 95 in a geography test in 5th grade because I wrote Spainish, not Spanish. Sister Irma said you still have to spell it correctly.

        1. Yeah I learned a lot of that stuff before highschool as well, but at least by time one finishes highschool, one *ought* to have some proficiency in those subjects. That a lot of people clearly don’t, is illustrated daily on social media, which is sad.

      2. “I believe that’s called “highschool”. Or supposed to be, anyway.”
        That was then; this is now.

    2. I saw nothing about submitting DNA and fingerprints, nor anything about a 6 month waiting period. Also, where are the mandatory classes on unconscious bias,white privilege, sexual hassment, and proper gender usage? Are you a Nazi?

      1. Fingerprints are part of a full background check.
        DNA is no longer settled science since it can no longer even tell men from women.
        All that other stuff need not be taught, everyone already know that made up stuff.
        I am not a Nazi. (you see that twitter? NOT a Nazi.)

        1. “I am not a Nazi”
          That is exactly what a Nazi would say.

  6. How about we protect children (26 and under?) by making it illegal for them to be in any public space (except designated child spaces like Chucky Cheese, Disney World, G rated movies, etc – NOT bars, bars are for adults assholes) including being on the internet and/or watching TV. If caught, we throw them and their parents in a giant blender and make animal feed from them.

    1. designated child spaces like Chucky Cheese

      Dude, that mouse is just creepy.

      1. What’s funny (or not) is that Chucky Cheese has one of the highest rates of police calls in many cities. Put a bunch of kids together and give the momma bears beer and let the fun begin.

    2. What do you have against animals?

      1. What about that poor giant blender?

  7. Show kids and young adults what life in a Socialist nation can be like.

    Shut off the internet.

    Their heads would explode.

  8. People wonder why I hate government so much. You can’t find better examples than these. All are exactly what free markets handle so well. People risk their own money, or their investors’ money, with hare-brained ideas like these and go out of business, or stay in business and set examples for others to follow, either way.

    These clowns have nothing to lose and votes to gain. so they throw the government sledge hammer at somebody else’s wall and don’t even give a single rat turd about what happens.

    Government sucks.

    1. I do think that this sort of thing comes out fairly well when reading Ayn Rand’s works like Atlas Shrugged. It’s clear that the industrialists work very hard to build their businesses, and then after they are successful, in swoop these know-it-all government regulators to dictate to them how to run their own businesses. Regardless of the merits (or lack thereof) of the regulators’ positions, it’s still disrespectful and ugly.

  9. This column is biased. Where’s the one on the *responsible* new tech bills in Congress?

    Ah, of course. Never mind then.

    1. The words responsible and Congress don’t belong in the same paragraph.

  10. “…any video to a user of the covered interactive computer service if [the company] knows, or should have known, that the video features 1 or more minors.”

    Want the world to see your video of your five-year-old playing with a kitten? Don’t count on it. Friggin’ ridiculous.

    MOFA

  11. And still not one bill that actually recognizes ownership of personal data as, by default, belonging to the person in question.

    1. In a world where you don’t actually own your own house (try not paying your taxes), nor do you own your own income, nor do you even get to “own” your healthcare, or your own DNA, why would someone assume that you own your “personal data.” (sarc font off)

      MOFA

  12. It doesn’t matter what the contents of any tech-related bill is. The Silicon Valley brain slugs and their media sockpuppets oppose anything that threatens their money. Speaking of which, how did the article omit the mandatory “threatens innovation” line? Your masters will not be pleased.

  13. Leave Big Tech alone.
    Its their right to censor speech they don’t like.
    If suppressing free speech is good enough for Hitler and Stalin, the its good enough for the hyper-sensitive controlling pigs running Big Tech.

  14. The problem with legislators is they want to legislate!

  15. This article in an example of the brilliant reporting one nowadays usually finds in back issues of Reason. This reporter is an asset to the publication. Go ENB!

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