Lawmakers have introduced a number of bipartisan bills to regulate the technology, and it’s one of the few major policy issues where Republicans and Democrats generally align.
WASHINGTON – Should TikTok be banned? Should younger children be prevented from interacting with social media? Can the government guarantee the security of private information? What about the brand new artificial intelligence interfaces? Or should users regulate themselves, leaving out the government?
Tech regulation has gained momentum on Capitol Hill amid concerns over Chinese ownership of TikTok and as parents grow increasingly concerned about social media’s effect on a post-pandemic mental health crisis. Noting that many young people are struggling, President Joe Biden said in his February State of the Union address that “it’s time” to pass bipartisan legislation to impose stricter limits on personal data collection and ban advertising targeted at children. .
“We must finally hold social media companies accountable for the experiment they are conducting on our children for profit,” Biden said.
Lawmakers have introduced a number of bipartisan bills to regulate the technology, and it’s one of the few major policy issues where Republicans and Democrats generally align, raising hopes for compromise in a divided Congress.
However, any attempt to tackle the mammoth industry would be met with major obstacles. Tech companies have aggressively fought any federal interference and have operated for decades without strict federal oversight, making new rules or guidelines that much more complicated.
A look at some of the areas for potential regulation:
Several House and Senate bills would seek to make social media, and the internet in general, safer for children who will inevitably be online. Lawmakers cite numerous examples of teenagers who took their own lives after cyberbullying or died by engaging in dangerous behavior encouraged on social media.
In the Senate, at least two competing bills focus on children’s online safety. Legislation by Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., passed by the Senate Commerce Committee last year, would require social media companies to be more transparent about their operations and enable child lock settings by default. Minors would have the ability to disable addictive product features and algorithms that push certain content.
The idea, the senators say, is that platforms should be “secure by design.” The legislation, which Blumenthal and Blackburn reintroduced last week, would also force social media companies to prevent certain dangers to minors, including the promotion of suicide, eating disorders, substance abuse, sexual exploitation and other illegal behavior.
A second bill introduced last month by four senators — Democratic Senators Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republican Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Katie Britt of Alabama — would take a more aggressive approach, banning children under the age of 13 from using social media platforms and seeking parental consent for teenagers. It will also ban companies from recommending content through algorithms for users under the age of 18.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., has not commented on specific legislation, but told reporters Tuesday, “I think we need some sort of protection for children” on the Internet.
Critics of the bills, including some civil rights groups and advocacy groups aligned with tech companies, say the proposals could threaten teens’ online privacy and prevent them from accessing content that could help them, such as resources for those who consider suicide or are struggling with their sex and gender identity.
“Lawmakers should focus on educating and empowering families to control their online experience,” said Carl Szabo of NetChoice, a group aligned with Meta, TikTok, Google and Amazon, among other companies.
Biden’s State of the Union remarks appeared to be a nod to legislation by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., that would expand online children’s privacy protections, prohibiting companies from collecting data personal data from younger teenagers and prohibit advertising targeted at children and teenagers. The bill, also reintroduced last week, would create a so-called “rubber button” that allows parents and children to delete personal data whenever possible.
A broader House effort would attempt to give adults and children more control over their data with what lawmakers are calling a “national privacy standard.” Legislation passed last year by the House Energy and Commerce Committee with broad bipartisan support would seek to minimize the data it collects and make it illegal to target ads at children, usurping state laws they have tried to enforce. privacy restrictions act. But the bill, which would also have given consumers more rights to sue for privacy violations, never made it to the House.
The outlook for House legislation is unclear now that Republicans have a majority. House Energy and Commerce Speaker Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.., has made the matter a priority, holding several hearings on data privacy. But the committee has not yet moved forward with a new bill.
Lawmakers introduced a slew of bills to ban TikTok or make it easier after a combative March House hearing in which lawmakers from both sides criticized TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew over his company’s ties to the Communist Chinese government, data security and harmful content on the application.
Chew attempted to assure lawmakers that the wildly popular video-sharing app prioritizes user safety and shouldn’t be banned due to its Chinese connections. But the testimony gave new impetus to the efforts.
Soon after the hearing, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican, tried to force a Senate vote on legislation that would have banned TikTok from operating in the United States. But he was blocked by fellow Republican, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who said a ban would violate the Constitution and anger the millions of voters who use the app.
Another bill sponsored by Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, like Hawley’s bill, would ban US business transactions with TikTok, but also create a new framework for the executive branch to block any foreign apps deemed hostile. His bill is co-sponsored by Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., and Mike Gallagher, R-Wis.
There is broad Senate support for the bipartisan legislation sponsored by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., and South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 1 Republican. Senate Rule 2, which doesn’t specifically name TikTok but would give the Commerce Department power to review and potentially limit foreign threats to tech platforms.
The White House has signaled it will support that bill, but it’s unclear whether it will be introduced in the Senate or if it could garner support among House Republicans.
TikTok has launched an extensive lobbying campaign for its survival, including leveraging influencers and young voters to argue that the app isn’t harmful.
A new question for Congress is whether lawmakers should move to regulate artificial intelligence as rapidly developing and potentially game-changing products like the ChatGPT AI chatbot begin to hit the market and can in many ways mimic human behavior.
Senate Leader Schumer has made emerging technology a priority, arguing the US must keep pace with China and other countries that are observing AI product regulations. He worked with AI experts and released a big picture of what regulation might look like, including greater disclosure of the people and data involved in developing the technology, more transparency, and explanations of how robots arrive at answers.
Schumer said any eventual regulation should “prevent potentially catastrophic damage to our country while also ensuring that the United States advances and leads this transformative technology.”
The White House has also focused on the issue, with a recent announcement of a $140 million investment to establish seven new AI research institutes. Vice President Kamala Harris met with heads of Google, Microsoft and other companies developing AI products on Thursday.