I currently serve as chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, and I’m the senior Republican on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Both panels play an integral role in developing federal technology policy and providing oversight of some of the nation’s largest technology companies, including Twitter, Facebook, and Google, just to name a few.
My goal as a federal policymaker has always been to apply a light-touch approach to internet regulation that creates a positive environment for consumers and entrepreneurs, while ensuring users are protected and online platforms follow all of the appropriate rules and regulations. It’s that type of balanced approach that has allowed the internet to flourish as much as it has in its relatively short history.
An overly regulated internet hinders innovation and growth, but an under-regulated internet would create its own set of problems. For example, think of the internet as a new interstate highway system that’s been built from the East Coast of the United States to the West Coast. In a completely regulation-free environment, a driver could access the highway without a driver’s license and travel as fast as he or she wanted through big cities, small towns, and the open road.
If you multiplied that unregulated driver by hundreds of thousands of people, that would obviously be unsafe for the people on the highway and in the towns through which it travels. That’s why governments and regulators apply speed limits, stops signs, traffic lights, and licensing requirements to ensure drivers, and those people around them, have the freedom to travel as safely and efficiently as possible.
As traffic patterns, volume, and other needs on our nation’s roadways evolve, so too does the internet. That’s why it’s so important for Congress to stay ahead of the curve and always work toward striking the right balance on internet regulation. If we don’t, we risk creating a system where the rules that apply in the offline world for certain conduct do not apply in the online world, a situation that will tilt against consumers.
I recently joined Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), my Democrat counterpart on the subcommittee I chair, in introducing the Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency Act – or PACT Act – which would update a decades-old federal law that provides the rules of the road for certain technology companies that host user-generated content. For example, most social media platforms would fall into this category.
Under current law, if a user posts illegal content, the platform that hosts it isn’t held liable for it, in most circumstances. The law also protects companies that choose to moderate content on their platforms (in other words, decide whether user-generated content stays or is removed). The law was effective while many of these online companies were in their infancy, but there’s a growing bipartisan concern that social media platforms are often not transparent and accountable enough to consumers with respect to the platform’s moderation of user-generated content. That’s why our PACT Act is so relevant.
At its core, the PACT Act is about transparency, accountability, consistency, and consumer protection. It would require companies that moderate content to provide a clear and easily accessible user policy that explains how, when, and why user-generated content might be removed. It would also require these online platforms to create a defined complaint system that processes reports and notifies users of moderation decisions within 14 days. Our legislation would require large technology companies to have a toll-free customer service phone line with live customer support to take customer complaints. This requirement is geared toward consumers who are less familiar with technology and who want to talk to a real person about a complaint about their service. And, among other things, the PACT Act would allow users to file an appeal if a platform removes a post and the user disagrees with the decision.
Again, regulating the internet is all about striking the right balance, and I believe our bill is a step in the right direction. Anyone on either end of the political spectrum who is worried about potential bias or too much top-down control on online platforms should be able to support the basic principles of the PACT Act and its modernization of the rules for the digital road throughout the United States.