Legislation Would Ban Federal Government From Urging Tech Companies To Remove Content

January 12, 2023


Topline

House Republicans plan to introduce legislation Thursday that would ban the federal government from pressuring social media companies to suppress lawful speech, the Wall Street Journal reported, the latest move by the Republican-led House in targeting what the GOP believes were efforts by the Biden Administration to push tech companies to remove content that cast Democrats in an unfavorable light.

Key Facts

Reps. James Comer (Ky.), Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), all newly appointed chairs of key House committees, will sponsor the legislation, which they told the Journal is an effort to prevent the federal government from working with social media companies “to silence Americans.”

The legislation echoes the “Protecting Speech from Government Interference Act” introduced by Comer in August, which never made it out of committee in the previously Democrat-controlled House.

The bill will see more traction in the GOP-controlled House, after the party regained control in the midterm election, but it is unlikely to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate.

The legislation follows a series of actions this week in Republicans’ various investigations of the Biden Administration surrounding their allegations that it colluded with social media companies to limit content that reflects negatively on Democrats.

Key Background

The House on Tuesday established the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, chaired by Jordan, that will probe the Biden Administration’s communications with tech companies and whether they infringed on Americans’ First Amendment rights. Jordan, as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, in December requested documents from several tech companies, including Apple and Meta, that detail their content moderation efforts, claiming “evidence suggests that Big Tech companies are colluding” with the federal government “to suppress free speech online.” The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Forbes seeking a response to the allegations.

Tangent

Republicans have claimed newly released Twitter documents detailing internal debate surrounding content moderation decisions under its previous owner are further evidence that social media companies have suppressed lawful content for political purposes. The documents, unveiled by Twitter owner Elon Musk via journalist Matt Taibbi, showed how the company ultimately decided to remove a 2020 New York Post story about Hunter Biden due to Russian hacking concerns. The story, published in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election, suggested then-Vice President Biden had dealings with Hunter Biden’s Ukrainian business partners (Biden has repeatedly denied any connections to his son’s business ventures). Comer, in his new role as House Oversight Committee chair, requested testimony from Twitter employees on Wednesday. He also sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen seeking what are known as “suspicious activity reports” that detail the business activities of the president’s sons, Hunter and James Biden. Financial institutions routinely file the reports with the Treasury Department any time they detect a business transaction that could involve illegal activity.

Contra

Biden’s team assailed Republicans for focusing on what it called “political stunts driven by the most extreme MAGA members of their caucus” during its first week of controlling the House, White House spokesperson Ian Sams said. Biden, meanwhile, called for bipartisan legislation to rein in big tech companies in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Wednesday. The president urged Congress to focus on measures to limit content and practices that are harmful to children, prevent tech companies from stifling competition and increase transparency of tech companies’ data collection policies.

Further Reading

Biden Urges Bipartisan Legislation To Rein In Big Tech Companies—As GOP Targets President In Tech Probes (Forbes)

What To Watch For As Republican-Controlled Congress Finally Gets Down To Business (Forbes)

Musk’s ‘Twitter Files’: Internal Hunter Biden Debate Revealed With Much Hype But No Bombshells (Forbes)



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