U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband, today reintroduced the bipartisan Platform Accountability and Transparency (PACT) Act with his colleague Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). The PACT Act would increase accountability for big internet platforms and enhance transparency regarding content moderation for online consumers. It would preserve the benefits of Section 230, which has governed internet development for more than 20 years, while making significant reforms to better protect Americans during their online experience.
Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, social media platforms have become a pretty significant part of Americans’ lives.
“We use them to stay up-to-date on news from friends and family – something that has become especially essential during the pandemic.
“To communicate with relatives and friends.
“As a shopping resource.
“Social media sites provide ways to network.
“To connect with likeminded individuals – from fellow theater lovers to fellow basketball fans.
“To advocate for causes we believe in.
“To conduct business.
“Even to date.
“And more and more, we rely on social media sites as a primary source of news and information – from presidential election news to updates on COVID vaccinations.
“Social media offers a lot of benefits and opportunities.
“But the increasing dominance of social media, particularly in the news and information space, has also raised concerns.
“Consumers have become increasingly troubled about the way their information is used by social media platforms, and how these sites decide what news and information we see.
“And there are increasing numbers of anecdotes to suggest that some social media platforms are moderating content in a biased or political way.
“Mr. President, currently content moderation on social media platforms is governed by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which was enacted into law 25 years ago.
“Section 230 provides internet sites that host user-generated content – sites like YouTube or Twitter or Facebook – with immunity for the content users post on their sites.
“So, for example, if somebody posts a video on YouTube that contains illegal content, YouTube isn’t held legally responsible for that content.
“Section 230 has been critical to the development of the internet as we know it.
“Without Section 230 protections, many of the sites we rely on for social connection or news or entertainment would never have come into being.
“But as the internet – and social media – has grown and developed, it’s also become clear that some changes need to be made.
“In particular, it’s become increasingly clear that sites need to provide greater transparency when it comes to their content moderation practices and decisions.
“Social media sites are no longer just providing a platform for user-generated content, as they did in their infancy.
“They’re now making a lot of decisions about that content and carefully shaping our social media experience – what ads we see, what posts we see, what news stories we see.
“And currently federal law does not require that social media sites be at all accountable to consumers for those content moderation decisions.
“That’s why today I am introducing the Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency Act, or the PACT Act, along with my colleague Senator Schatz.
“Our bill would preserve the benefits of Section 230 – like the internet growth and widespread dissemination of free speech it has enabled – while increasing accountability and consumer transparency around content moderation.
“Now, Mr. President, content moderation is certainly not all bad.
“For example, most of us are happy to have YouTube or Instagram suggest additional content that matches the music we like to listen to or the hobbies we’re interested in.
“The problem is that content moderation has been – and largely continues to be – a black box, with consumers having little or no idea how the information they see has been shaped by the sites they’re visiting.
“The PACT Act would address this problem by increasing transparency around the content moderation process.
“Sites would be required to provide an easily digestible disclosure of their content moderation practices for users.
“And, importantly, they would be required to explain their decisions to remove material to consumers.
“Until relatively recently, sites like Facebook and Twitter would remove a user’s post without explanation and without an appeals process.
“And even as platforms start to shape up their act with regard to transparency and due process, it’s still hard for users to get good information about how content is moderated.
“The PACT Act would also require sites to have an appeals process – so if Facebook, for example, removes one of your posts, it would not only have to tell you why, but it would have to provide a way for you to appeal that decision.
“We’ve seen increased concern lately about news articles being removed from social media sites.
“Under the PACT Act, a newspaper whose article was posted on Facebook or Twitter and then removed by one of those platforms could challenge Facebook or Twitter, which would have to provide a reason for removing the article and allow the newspaper to appeal the decision.
“The PACT Act would also help us develop the data necessary to demonstrate whether social media platforms are removing content in a biased or political fashion.
“As I said earlier, there has been increasing concern about biased content moderation on social media sites.
“The PACT Act requires detailed transparency reports every six months from large social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, which will provide the data needed to determine whether and where biased moderation exists.
“The PACT Act would also bolster efforts by state governments to hold social media platforms accountable.
“The bill would allow state attorneys general to bring civil lawsuits against social media platforms when these platforms have violated federal civil laws.
“The PACT Act would also require companies to remove material that has been adjudicated as illegal by a court.
“Internet platforms would be required to remove illegal content within four days.
“Failure to remove illegal material would result in the platform’s losing its 230 protections for that content or activity – a provision that matches a recommendation made by the Trump Department of Justice for Section 230 reform.
“Mr. President, I’m grateful to Senator Schatz for partnering with me on this legislation.
“Our bill is a serious, bipartisan approach to the issue of Section 230 reform.
“And it would go a long way toward making social media platforms more accountable to consumers and increasing transparency around the content moderation process.
“I invite our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join us in advancing this legislation.”