Big Tech or Big Brother? Colorado senator proposes tech watchdog
Many members of Congress are often highly critical of Big Tech companies. Members of both parties have raised antitrust concerns, while Democrats have criticized tech companies for spreading misinformation and Republicans frequently accuse companies of liberal bias. Now a Democratic senator has proposed a new regulator for social media companies.
This week, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced the Digital Platform Commission Act, which would create the Federal Digital Platform Commission. In a press release, Bennet described the proposed commission as “an expert federal agency empowered to provide comprehensive, industry-specific regulation of digital platforms to protect consumers, promote competition, and defend the public interest.”
Bennet added that the commission “would have the mandate, the skill and a wide range of tools to develop and enforce thoughtful guardrails for an industry that has been left too long to write its own rules, with serious consequences for all.” , from teen mental health to misinformation to anti-competitive practices that have hurt small businesses.
The new commission would operate something like the FCC; it would have five commissioners appointed by the president and subject to Senate confirmation. The Federal Trade Commission is now the primary regulator of the tech industry, although the Justice Department currently has an antitrust case against Alphabet, Google’s parent company.
“As a country, we should be proud that most of the world’s leading tech companies were founded in America. But they are no longer start-ups. Today, they are among the most powerful corporations in human history. It is high time for a thoughtful and comprehensive approach to the regulation of digital platforms which have gained extraordinary power over our economy, our society and our democracy,” Bennet said in the statement. “We should follow the long precedent in American history of empowering a body of experts to protect the public interest through common sense rules and oversight of complex and powerful sectors of the economy.”
Some technical experts were skeptical of Bennet’s proposal. “The very idea of a government agency tasked with ‘maintaining a robust and compatible marketplace of ideas’ sounds like the opposite of America,” New York Times columnist and longtime tech writer Farhad Manjoo said on Twitter on Thursday.
“Is there literally ANYBODY in Congress who understands the 1st Amendment? Senator, how… do you think this commission will work if Trump is reelected?” fellow tech reporter Mike Masnick said on Twitter. It’s unclear whether Bennet’s proposal has momentum in the Senate this year, or whether the Senate leadership or the White House supports it. The Washington Post called it a “long shot” in the currently divided Senate.
Stephen Silver, technology editor for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who also contributes to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and connect today. Co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.