WASHINGTON — A new bill would force the White House to disclose its requests for Facebook and other social media companies to censor content it considers “misinformation.”
Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) on Wednesday introduced the Disclose Government Censorship Act to reveal the extent of censorship requests.
“The recent collusion that has come to light between the Biden Administration and Big Tech is not only disturbing, but inconsistent with the government’s constitutional role in American life,” Hagerty said in a statement.
The freshman senator unveiled his bill on Fox News, saying that recent White House remarks indicated that the social network had become “an extension of the federal government.”
Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) are co-sponsors.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said this month that “we are flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation,” particularly about COVID-19 vaccines. But the extent of White House-Facebook communications on censorship remains murky. Psaki later said that the White House was only flagging general topic areas for the company to monitor.
Psaki’s apparent admission was a boon to former President Donald Trump’s legal fight against Big Tech platforms that banned him following the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Trump filed lawsuits this month against Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, arguing that they are illegally suppressing free speech rights on behalf of the government.
Trump lawyer John Coale said the suits would prove that the companies “are government actors” and that “therefore, the First Amendment does apply” to their actions, meaning that they must allow wide-open political debate.
Psaki’s remarks drew concern in part because information previously censored by Facebook for being “misinformation” later gained credibility. For example, Facebook censored until May posts that claimed the virus may have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China. But after the Wall Street Journal reported that three of the lab’s workers were hospitalized in November 2019, just before the pandemic began, Biden in May ordered a 90-day spy agency review of the lab-release theory. One US spy agency leans toward that explanation, the intelligence community said.
Hagerty’s new bill would require executive-branch and legislative employees to disclose “any communication… with a provider or operator of an interactive computer service regarding action or potential action by the provider or operator to restrict access to or the availability of, bar or limit access to, or decrease the dissemination or visibility to users of, material posted by another information content provider.”
That would include discussion of censorship that’s done “manually or through use of an algorithm or other automated or semi-automated process.”
The disclosures would be published on a government website.
Hagerty’s bill also would ban former government employees from moving directly into Big Tech jobs. For most workers in Congress and the executive branch, there would be a one-year “cooling off” period. If the official requested censorship of posts, they would have to wait two years.
The Tennessee Republican in April introduced a different anti-Big Tech bill intended to bolster the principle of free speech after the censorship of news stories, including articles published by The Post.
The 21st Century FREE Speech Act would curb censorship by companies like Facebook and Twitter by declaring them “common carriers,” a term also used for companies like railroads that must transport goods without discrimination.
That bill also would require transparency in moderation practices and repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which grants legal immunity to Internet companies that host third-party content.
Although Republicans are in the minority in both chambers of Congress, proposals to reform internet laws often have bipartisan traction — so much so that Big Tech firms are lobbying for new regulations in hopes of shaping them.
A particularly strident approach is championed by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who is sponsoring the Bust Up Big Tech Act to force some companies to break up to avoid monopoly power.
Until recently, Republicans were more reluctant to regulate Big Tech platforms, but there was a pivot in response to Facebook and Twitter censoring The Post’s reporting in October on a laptop formerly belonging to Hunter Biden that appeared to implicate his father in overseas business deals in China and Ukraine.