Technology

Four Senate Democrats push Klobuchar to revise antitrust bill over hate speech concerns

Four Senate Democrats asked Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to revise a key antitrust bill that they said could “supercharge harmful content online” as written. 

In a letter Wednesday, Sens. Brian Schatz (Hawaii), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Ben Ray Luján (N.M.) and Tammy Baldwin (Wisc.) said they support the overall goal of the bill to rein in the power of tech giants — but said it could lead to unintended consequences that would limit companies’ ability to moderate violative content. 

“Our understanding is that you do not intend for the bill to limit content moderation in this way, and we want to work with you to fix this issue,” they wrote. 

Their letter comes as Klobuchar and Sen Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the lead sponsors of the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, push for a floor vote this month on the bipartisan bill. It advanced out of the Judiciary Committee earlier this year with bipartisan support.

The bill would ban dominant tech platforms from preferencing their own products and services over rivals’. As written, the legislation would likely apply to Apple, Amazon, Google and Meta. 

The content moderation concerns stem from a portion of the bill that would make it illegal for companies to “discriminate in the application or enforcement of the terms of service … in a manner that would materially harm competition.” 

The Democratic Senators who penned the letter to Klobuchar said as written the provision would “imperil current content moderation practices by putting competition policy in direct conflict” with companies’ ability to remove hate speech, misinformation and other violative content. 

The senators suggested adding text that spells out that nothing in the provision “may be construed to impose liability” on a covered platform for moderating content. 

A Klobuchar spokesperson said the bill as written will not harm the platforms’ ability to moderate content, but indicated the senator is open to possibly adding a revision. 

“As we have made clear for months, we are open to considering reasonable suggestions that are not intended to alter the core principles of this legislation: to protect consumers and small businesses from anticompetitive behavior by monopolies,” the spokesperson said in a statement. 

At a press conference last week, Klobuchar pushed back on the argument that the bill raises unintended consequences around content moderation. 

“If anyone’s been spreading disinformation, it’s the tech companies right now, directly spreading disinformation about this bill. This bill is about competition, it’s not focused on content,” she said. 

She also said that while talks are continuing with colleagues and there could be a “few more changes,” the sponsors will not put forward “some weak bill that doesn’t do anything.”

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), one of the lead sponsors of the House version of the bill, also said the content moderation argument is “not a serious criticism.”

“There is nothing in this bill that would in fact, make it more difficult for platforms to have in place content moderation policies. And in fact, the bill requires that before that could happen, the platform would have to demonstrate that it has a different set of rules in terms of conduct on their platform, and that it also materially harmed competition,” he said at last week’s press conference. 

Some tech organizations, such as Free Press and the Center for Democracy and Technology, have also raised concerns that the bill would hinder content moderation policies. 

But other groups, including Fight for the Future, Public Knowledge and the Center for American Progress, have pushed back on the argument and said the bill does not pose those concerns.

Technology