Senators unveil bipartisan bill requiring social media giants to open data to researchers

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Tech giants may rely more on European Union laws than U.S. laws to police what happens on their sites.

Meta and other social media companies would be required to share their data with outside researchers under a new bill announced by a bipartisan group of senators on Thursday. 

Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) underscored the need for their bill based on information leaked about Meta’s platforms in the so-called Facebook Papers, though the proposal would also apply to other social media companies.

The bill, the Platform Accountability and Transparency Act, would allow independent researchers to submit proposals to the National Science Foundation. If the requests are approved, social media companies would be required to provide the necessary data subject to certain privacy protections. 

“It’s increasingly clear that more transparency is needed so that the billions of people who use Facebook, Twitter, and similar platforms can fully understand the impact of those tradeoffs. This bipartisan proposal is an important step that will bring much needed information about the impact of social media companies to light and ought to be a crucial part of any comprehensive strategy that Congress can take to regulate major social media companies,” Coons said in a statement. 

If companies failed to comply with the requirement under the bill, they would be subject to enforcement from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and face losing immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Section 230 is a controversial provision that provides immunity for internet companies based on content posted by third parties, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have proposed measures to weaken its reach. 

The bill also gives the FTC power to require platforms to proactively make certain information available of resources or the public on an ongoing basis, such as an ad library with information about user targeting and engagement. 

Facebook came under fire in August after suspending the accounts of New York University researchers who created a tool to analyze political ads and the spread of misinformation on the platform.  

Facebook had sent the researchers a case-and-desist letter in prior months, and it argued the decision was made because the research posed privacy protection issues. 

Social media companies have also faced increased pressure to provide information on their data, especially as it relates to kids and teenagers on the platforms. 

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) asked Facebook to disclose information about internal research on the impact of its platforms on kids and teens, but the senators said the platform failed to make that information available to them and it was only later disclosed in documents leaked by a company whistleblower. 

In subsequent hearings since the information was leaked, senators have pushed executives from Meta, Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube to commit to providing information about internal research and data collected especially on underaged users.

Tags Amy Klobuchar Chris Coons Facebook Marsha Blackburn META National Science Foundation Richard Blumenthal Rob Portman Section 230 Snapchat Social media Social networks tiktok Twitter

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