People across the political spectrum have serious beefs with social media giants like Facebook and Twitter. But Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet’s proposal to police them with a new federal bureaucracy is bound to backfire.
Bennet introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate last week to create a Federal Digital Platform Commission. It would, says a press statement from his office, “have the mandate, jurisdiction, and broad set of tools to develop and enforce thoughtful guardrails for a sector that has been left for too long to write its own rules, with serious consequences for everything from teen mental health to disinformation to anti-competitve practices that have hurt small businesses.”
That’s one heckuva mandate.
Bennet is quoted in the press release: “As a country, we should take pride that most of the world’s leading tech companies were founded in America. But they aren’t start-ups anymore. Today they rank among the most powerful companies in human history. 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.”
He calls his proposed commission, “…an expert body to protect the public interest through common sense rules and oversight for complex and powerful sectors of the economy.”
Whether Bennet knows it or not, his legislation would lead us all into a minefield.
To say the least, it smacks of Big Brother. Sure, its aim of “regulating digital platforms” sounds like consumer protection with the noblest of intentions. But when those protections purport to safeguard “teen mental health” or root out “disinformation,” the implications are obvious. Notably, second-guessing what content is posted to social media. That presents constitutional hurdles and invites epic court battles over our First Amendment rights.
The tech world gets that. Techdirt.com Editor Mike Masnick called Bennet’s proposed commission “bizarre” in a blog post this week, declaring, “Regulating social media means regulating speech.” Masnick writes, “Defenders of the law claim that it’s not there to regulate speech, but so much of what the bill tiptoes around is that Bennet is unhappy with what is clearly 1st Amendment protected activity by these websites.”
Bennet’s proposal is in fact on a collision course with itself. Bennet attempts to bridge the country’s partisan divide by tapping into popular frustration with social media at both ends of the political spectrum. Yet, those two ends of the spectrum see the problem very differently and, ultimately, want opposite outcomes.
The complaint heard on the right is that their voices are being silenced by big social media; the complaint heard on the left is that too many voices on the right are still getting through. The left contends those voices distort facts — about vaccinations, elections, Russians, etc. — while the right contends it is being excluded for its views, not its data.
Those on the left want to curb “disinformation” and “hate speech.” Those on the right want to tweet their views on vaccine mandates or transgender athletes — without being banned for “disinformation” or “hate speech.”
Bennet’s commission cannot please both sides and more likely would satisfy neither. Masnick gets that, too. He notes the commission would be charged with issuing rules that ensure social media giants are, “…fair, transparent, and without harmful, abusive, anticompetitive, or deceptive bias…”
Masnick observes, “I am perplexed at how a Democratic senator could possibly write a law like this and not consider how a Trump administration would abuse it.” Or, a Biden administration?
Does either side really want to hand Uncle Sam this double-edged sword?