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Lawmakers Are Calling For Greater Oversight of Social Media

According to the White House, Biden has 'long argued that tech platforms must be held accountable for the harms they cause'

On Monday, after the announcement of Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, the White House called for more reforms and oversight of regulations related to social media. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked Monday if the White House had concerns over a billionaire taking control of the social media platform, one of many questions posed during Monday’s press briefing

She responsed, “I would say that our concerns are not new. We’ve long talked about and the President has long talked about his concerns about the power of social media platforms, including Twitter and others, to spread misinformation, disinformation; the need for these platforms to be held accountable.”

When the newly announced sale of Twitter was mentioned, she said that “No matter who owns or runs Twitter, the President has long been concerned about the power of large social media platforms, the power they have over our everyday lives; has long argued that tech platforms must be held accountable for the harms they cause.”

Psaki said President Biden “has been a strong supporter of fundamental reforms to achieve that goal, including reforms to Section 230, enacting antitrust reforms, requiring more transparency, and more. And he’s encouraged that there’s bipartisan interest in Congress.”

Psaki’s comments follow those of other government leaders. 

On Monday, Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke up about the need to place more substantial restrictions on social media operations. In a post on Twitter, she said that the government must “hold Big Tech accountable.”

On Tuesday, Senator Ed Markey said, “Elon Musk and a handful of billionaires now have dangerous influence over the most powerful online platforms. They can’t be trusted, and self-regulation has failed. We must pass laws to protect privacy and promote algorithmic justice for internet users, especially for kids.”

Just last year, President Biden said social media was “killing people” as he spoke about the concept of misinformation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Following Biden’s remarks, Reps. Mike Doyle and Frank Pallone announced plans to undertake Section 230 reform.

Pallone said, “Social media platforms like Facebook continue to actively amplify content that endangers our families, promotes conspiracy theories, and incites extremism to generate more clicks and ad dollars. These platforms are not passive bystanders – they are knowingly choosing profits over people, and our country is paying the price.”

He went on to say that “the time for self-regulation is over, and this bill holds them accountable. Designing personalized algorithms that promote extremism, disinformation, and harmful content is a conscious choice, and platforms should have to answer for it.”

The call for reform has continued. Last week, while giving a speech about disinformation at Stanford University, former President Barack Obama said that the internet and social media were “turbocharging some of humanity’s worst impulses.”

He said he understood not all of the negative impacts were from bad intentions but rather the result of billions of people plugged into a constant stream of information every day. 

“Not all problems we’re seeing now are an inevitable by-product of this new technology. They’re also the result of very specific choices made by the companies that have come to dominate the internet generally and social media platforms in particular,” he said.

He noted that most social media was designed to cause people to stay online longer and driven by technology such as artificial intelligence that did not seek the best results for a person’s well-being. 

He also noted that evolving technology would make it harder for the general public to identify misinformation. 

Obama then pointed to Section 230, a U.S. law that broadly protects tech companies from liability. Under the law, social media companies are free from culpability resulting from users’ posts on their platforms. It also protects companies’ rights to moderate content as they see fit.

“It is clear that tech companies have changed dramatically over the last 20 years, and we need to consider reforms to Section 230 to account for those changes,” said Obama.

The former President noted that social media companies should allow regulators to scrutinize their algorithms that promote content.

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