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US Senators announce new social media legislation

A bipartisan group of US senators has introduced the Platform Accountability and Transparency Act, new legislation which would require social media groups to offer independent researchers access to their data.

US Senators announce new social media legislation
Photograph: Ian Hutchinson on Unsplash.

The draft legislation was initiated by Democrat senators Chris Coons of Delaware and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Republican senator Rob Portman of Ohio. The new legislation would compel social media groups to share their data with “qualified researchers” affiliated with a university and pursuing a project endorsed by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Laura Edelson, a PhD candidate in Computer Science at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering, told The Verge that the legislation “is a truly comprehensive platform transparency proposal.” She added that if passed “this legislation would provide a real pathway for researchers to better understand online harms and start coming up with solutions.”

This draft legislation comes at a time when social media giants are coming under close scrutiny in the wake of testimony from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen. Much of this scrutiny relates to the harm that Facebook products could inflict on young people.

Last week Mosseri faced the Senate’s consumer protection subcommittee, who asked him probing questions about the measures the platform has in place to protect the mental health of its younger users.

“Parents are asking, what is Congress doing to protect our kids and the resounding bipartisan message from this committee is that legislation is coming,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal (A Democrat representing Connecticut and chair of the committee), adding, “We can’t rely on self-policing.”

“Some of the big tech companies have said ‘Trust us’. That seems to be what Instagram is saying in your testimony but self-policing depends on trust. The trust is gone.”

Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Republican representing Tennessee, echoed the remarks and admitted frustration.

“This is now the 4th time in the past 2 years that we have spoken with someone from Meta,” she said. “The conversation continues to repeat itself ad nauseum.

“Tennesseans want Big Tech to be more transparent and to accept responsibility for your actions. And time and time again, you say things that make it sound like you are hearing us and agree - but then nothing changes,” Blackburn said.

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