How can Congress best regulate Facebook’s monstrosity? At a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on social media, extremism, and misinformation Thursday, Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) offered a creative proposal: a new government agency, similar to the Federal Trade Commission, that broadly provides oversight via social media companies.
Much like the FTC or the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Welch argued that such an agency would be staffed with policy and technology experts and could focus on a wide range of topics, from content standards and privacy to misinformation and disinformation.
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, and Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, attended the hearing, and Rep. Welch asked them directly if they would support such an agency, which he calls “the creation a public agency by Congress ”. .. that has the power to set and enforce rules, to be a permanent representative of the public to address these emerging issues. ”
Zuckerberg told the House Committee that Welch’s proposal could be “very effective and positive,” noting that such an agency could help with “complex tradeoffs” between privacy, competition, security and freedom of expression. Twitter’s Jack Dorsey said he was open to the idea, depending on the details of how such a unit would work in practice. Meanwhile, Google’s Pichai said it would oppose Congress on the issue, but agreed that “expertise” was required.
“Social media companies are constantly innovating and changing, and Congress can’t keep up, but a dedicated government agency that can adapt and monitor quickly and effectively can,” Welch suggested in a letter ahead of Thursday’s hearing sent to other members of Congress. The letter, viewed by Recode, suggests that this company would have the flexibility to resolve a wide range of issues raised by social media platforms, including privacy and data security, content moderation, and liability protection.
In the race for ️ & -, social media perpetuated loops of misinformation. @EnergyCommerce held a hearing where I revealed my plan to create a Fed agency to regulate its unchecked power. I’m working on getting this idea going. Do you agree? pic.twitter.com/flcoUKXarz
– MP Peter Welch (@PeterWelch), March 25, 2021
Welch’s proposal stood out at the hearing, which lasted over five hours, and largely reviewed the ongoing concerns of Republicans and Democrats about social media platforms, including misinformation, online discrimination, child welfare on social media, and content moderation .
Nor is this the first time anyone has proposed a new government agency to regulate social media or tech companies. Paul Barrett, professor at NYU and deputy director of the Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, has called for a “digital office” to be added to the FTC or a new “Digital Regulatory Agency” to be set up to ensure that the platforms meet certain requirements Standards. A bill proposed last year by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and John Thune (R-SD), the “Platform Responsibility and Consumer Transparency Act,” also calls for the FTC to play a more assertive role in oversight of social media company plays. Others have suggested the idea that Congress pass laws that create accountability and transparency guidelines for social media companies, leaving it to another agency to ensure companies adhere to those guidelines.
It is unclear how likely it is that Congress will create a new federal agency to regulate social media or expand the remit of an existing federal agency to do that. However, Thursday’s hearing suggests that the excitement about cracking down on these platforms remains high.
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