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Romney, colleagues introduce legislation to increase transparency on social media platforms

Romney, colleagues introduce legislation to increase transparency on social media platforms
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WASHINGTONUnited States Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), a ranking member of the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Homeland Security Spending Oversight, along with Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Dr. Bill Cassidy, MD ( R-LA), Amy Klobuchar (D -MN), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), today introduced the bipartisan Platform Accountability and Transparency Act (PATA), a bill that would require social media companies to share more data with the public and researchers.

The threat that social media poses to the well-being of our youth and our national security is becoming increasingly apparent,Senator Romney said. By increasing data access and transparency, this legislation will help parents, policymakers and researchers better understand the impact social media has on society and enable Congress to craft policies that create a healthier online experience for children and all Americans.

Social media platforms shape the information that billions of people around the world consume, yet we still know too little about how they operate and the impact they have on each of us and our society. Right now, Congress and the public have no way of verifying whether or how safe these products really are.Senator Coons said. We cannot continue to let platforms evaluate their own tasks. That’s why I’m introducing the Platform Accountability and Transparency Act, which will provide the public with an evidence-based understanding of the effects these platforms have on our children, families, democracy, and national security. This bipartisan bill is a crucial step that will help ensure that social media regulation addresses the issues facing our communities today.

It is clear that Big Tech companies will abuse their power when allowed to operate in the dark. Congress needs the tools to hold these companies accountable. Our bill gives us transparency in data collection by social media companies,Senator Cassidy said.

Social media companies have said: trust us, putting profits ahead of users’ safety, privacy and well-being for far too long. It’s time to start holding these platforms accountable for the dangerous lack of transparency behind their algorithms,said Senator Klobuchar.Our bipartisan legislation will do just that, ensuring that independent researchers can access the platform’s data and better understand how their algorithms work.

Social media platforms have given rise to new threats to our national security, our mental health and our children, and we need to better understand how these companies operate and their effect on society.Senator Cornyn said. This legislation would strengthen independent researchers’ access to social media company data, and I urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to support it.

Social media platforms and their black box algorithms have fueled a mental health crisis in our country. Operating under a cloak of secrecy, Big Tech has been able to profit from toxic content and the addictive characteristics it generates in users,said Senator Blumenthal.Sunlight is the best disinfectant, which is why public and independent researchers deserve access to corporate data and practices. I am proud to join my colleagues in this effort to strengthen online transparency.

In January 2022, the Washington Post’s editorial board endorsed PATA then in a draft discussion form a step toward solving our social media woes that would provide a safe haven not only for participating academics, but also for compliant businesses and[mandate]the creation of privacy and information security standards for the process.

Background:

PATA is a multi-pronged bill that creates new mechanisms to increase transparency around social media companies’ internal data:

  • Under PATA, independent researchers would be able to submit proposals to the National Science Foundation, an independent agency that approves research and development proposals in all sciences. If the requests are approved, social media companies would be required to provide necessary data to researchers subject to strict privacy protections.
  • Additionally, the bill would require platforms to proactively make certain information available to researchers and the public on an ongoing basis, such as:
    • A complete ad library;
    • Content moderation statistics;
    • Real-time data on viral content; AND
    • Descriptions of a platform ranking and recommendation algorithms.
  • The proposal would also protect researchers from legal liability that could arise from automatically collecting information on the public platform if they comply with various privacy safeguards.

This bill has been approved by the Council for Responsible Social Media, American Psychological Association, Mozilla, Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development, Fairplay and Common Sense Media. This bill was previously introduced in December 2022.

Transparency is a crucial goal in the drive towards accountable and trustworthy social mediasaid Dick Gephardt, former US House Majority Leader (D-MO) and co-chair of the Council for Responsible Social Media.How can we truly address the challenges posed by social media without knowing the nature, scale and scope of these problems? How can we safeguard our children, our communities and our national security from harm online without fully knowing what we are dealing with? PATA is the key to unlocking the social media black box and a necessary component of any social media reform.

Every day, big tech companies make decisions that affect our children, our communities, and ultimately our democracy.said Kerry Healey, former Massachusetts(R) lieutenant governor and co-chair of the Council for Responsible Social Media.Social media is deeply ingrained in our society, yet we know next to nothing about the policies and design choices of these platforms. The American public deserves to know how their personal data is being used and what impact it has on their lives. PATA will ensure that these companies can no longer operate in secrecy.

The Platform and Accountability Act takes important steps to increase the ability of psychologists who study the impact of social media to gain access to data held by social media platforms,said Mitch Prinstein, PhD, chief science officer of the American Psychological Association.This bipartisan legislation will increase our scientific understanding of this complex issue and enable healthcare professionals, youth and policy makers to mitigate the harmful impacts of social media use.

The text of the bill is available here. An account page is available here. A section-by-section summary of the bill is available here.

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