By guest columnist ADAM KOVACEVICHfounder of the Chamber of Progress.
A bill aimed at reducing the ability of tech companies to remove harmful posts, including foreign disinformation, nearly passed the Georgian legislature this year. And if the GOP expands its majority, it could very well pass in 2023.
Georgia Democrats rightly opposed the measure, but national Democrats are flirting with a bill that would require platforms to host potentially dangerous, discriminatory or violent content. And it would create fertile ground for foreign election disinformation in the nation’s most competitive state before 2024. The U.S. Online Innovation and Choice Act was introduced as part of an effort to increase competition in the tech sector, but in reality, the bill is music to the ears of foreign agents, pandemic deniers, and those who have everything to gain from pushing misinformation.
The issues could not be clearer. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Meta took steps to remove Russian state propaganda from Facebook and Instagram. These efforts put an end to at least two major disinformation campaigns – one that supported accounts posing as fake Ukrainian journalists and another linked to a Belarusian hacking group.
During this year’s primaries, local election commission officials had to fight disinformation campaigns aimed at misleading voters. Twitter and Meta have banned false claims about voting times, locations and eligibility from their platforms.
Together, these are important steps tech companies have taken to ensure their services have a positive impact on public discourse. Democrats and left-wing groups have backed their efforts, even calling for new measures to prevent the spread of intentionally false information online. Groups ranging from the NAACP to LGBT Tech recently joined my organization, Chamber of Progress, in opposing laws in Texas and Florida, which, like the proposed bill in Georgia, would have prevented digital platforms from removing harmful content.
But nationally, a number of Democrats are pushing for federal regulations that would unwittingly cripple tech companies’ ability to suppress misinformation and hate speech.
The technology bill before Congress would prevent online platforms from removing harmful content by prohibiting them from discriminating between similarly located businesses. Fortunately, a handful of lawmakers spoke up. As the Judiciary Committee considered the legislation, California Senator Alex Padilla pointed out that the bill would have effectively prevented Apple and Google from removing Talk from their app store for spreading false election information after the Jan. 6 uprising. .
The timing of this misguided proposal is disturbing. Georgia will likely be an electoral focal point in 2022, 2024 and beyond. The last two presidential elections have been marred by misinformation about voting results and processes, and false information spread by foreign governments and bad actors. These culminated in an organized assault on the government, the scale of which we have seen laid bare in recent weeks of congressional hearings.
Stripping social media platforms of moderation capabilities now would be more damaging than ever, especially when it comes to protecting the integrity of elections. Anyone who thinks these threats are going away isn’t paying attention.
Democrats have the right idea in Georgia. National Democrats should take note.
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