Republicans seek requirement for internet companies to disclose government concerns about content

Senate Republicans have introduced legislation requiring social media companies to publicly disclose requests or recommendations made by governments concerning the content users post on their platforms.

Facebook, Twitter and similar companies would be obligated under the PRESERVE Online Speech Act proposed Wednesday to regularly share information about such contacts or else risk facing ever-growing fines.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the bill’s main sponsor, announced the proposed legislation after raising concerns about the White House admittedly playing a role in policing medical disinformation online.

Discussing the lies spreading online about COVID-19, White House press secretary Jen Psaki recently said the Biden administration is “flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation.”

“Americans should know when governments — especially their own — request or pressure internet companies to censor legal speech,” Mr. Rubio responded in a statement announcing the newly filed Senate bill.

If passed, companies would have seven days to disclose any requests made by the U.S. or a foreign government about moderating content. Exceptions apply for law enforcement and national security matters.

Companies would risk fines of $50,000 for each day they are non-compliant, which the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would use to provide internet access in rural areas, according to the bill.

Internet companies including Facebook and Twitter already regularly published transparency reports containing all sorts of statistics about requests made by law enforcement officials and other authorities.

The proposed legislation requires those companies to also report instances where governments even recommend a provider moderate content, such as editing, deleting or reducing the reach of a specific post.

Formally the Preventing Restrictions and Empowering Speakers to Enable Robust and Varied Exchanges in Online Speech Act, the bill currently has four other sponsors in the Senate, all Republicans.

“If the federal government is attempting to end-run the Constitution by secretly working with tech platforms to censor Americans’ speech, then the American people deserve to know,” said Sen. Bill Hagerty, Tennessee Republican and one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “Requiring transparency will ensure that the government cannot work secretly to censor Americans,” he said in a statement.

The other sponsors of the bill include Sens. Rick Scott of Florida, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. It has been referred to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Spokespeople for Facebook and Twitter did not immediately respond to messages about the bill.

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