WASHINGTON, D.C. (LifeSiteNews) — Democrat U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Peter Welch of Vermont has introduced legislation to give the federal government “comprehensive oversight” power over digital platforms, in what critics are calling a blatant threat to freedom of speech online.
Bennet’s Digital Platform Commission Act would create a new five-person body of commissioners nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, backed by an 18-member Code Council of “experts” in various subjects including “disinformation.” The commission would have broad rulemaking, investigative, and penalizing power, ostensibly in the name of promoting public safety, access to government services, business competition and consumer protection, protection of digital infrastructure, prevention of “deceptive, unfair, unjust, unreasonable, or abusive practices,” algorithm fairness and transparency, and ensuring a “robust and competitive marketplace of ideas with a diversity of views at the local, State, and national levels.”
That last assurance is called into doubt, however, by Section 2 of the bill, which blames the current lack of federal regulation for “abetting the collapse of trusted local journalism,” “enabling addiction and other harms to mental health,” “disseminating disinformation and hate speech,” and “in some cases, radicalizing individuals to violence” — echoing common left-wing rhetoric about the expression of views and information that dissent from various left-wing orthodoxies.
“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,” Bennet said in a press release. “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.”
“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,” he continued. “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.”
Conservative attorney Harmeet Dhillon excoriated the bill as “unconstitutional, also evil and stupid” on Twitter, highlighting an analysis by Didi Rankovic of anti-online censorship website Reclaim the Net.
How stupid do you need to be, in America, to introduce legislation that violates the Constitution?
— Harmeet K. Dhillon (@pnjaban) May 19, 2023
“In Bennet and Welch’s proposal, all animals are equal – but some, as it were, more so,” Rankovic writes. “Thus, the Commission would be allowed to designate some digital platforms as being of systemic importance, and then subject those to extra oversight and regulation – such as audits and “explainability” related to algorithms.”
The legislation is unlikely to make it past the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, but highlights how action on ostensibly-apolitical tech issues such as consumer protection can be exploited as Trojan horses for speech regulation.
Opposition to China-linked video platform TikTok is another such area of bipartisan consensus, but recent legislation to ban it drew criticism for containing similar expansions of government power.