By Adam Kovacevich
November 19, 2021 at 5:00 am ET
Imagine your laptop keeps crashing. You’re getting the blue screen of death or the spinning wheel of horror. What do you do? You probably try to restart it, and when that doesn’t work, you find a computer repair technician.
That makes sense, but Congress has a different approach. Congress wants to take your laptop to the auto body shop and have a mechanic take a look. Welcome to the post-Facebook Files congressional free-for-all.
Right now, nationally, we’re at a spinning wheel of death kind of moment. Something is broken in the digital sphere. Teens are dealing with bullying and online body image issues. Adults are sharing misinformation and hate speech. Congress is outraged, and parents are at a loss for how to protect their kids. Something needs to be done.
There’s actually a lot of agreement about what needs to improve: Recent polling from Morning Consult shows that a full 69 percent of Americans believe that Facebook should implement more stringent standards to prevent certain types of content on its platform, and two-thirds of respondents want to see more moderation of harmful content online. That’s broad agreement for a country in which most voters can’t agree over the basic facts.
There are other issues on the internet aside from content moderation, such as cybersecurity threats. But to address the raft of concerns raised by the Facebook Files, our best bet is to tackle the issue at hand — what children and voters see online.
Instead, Congress is hard at work on legislation that would change how Google Maps, the Apple App store and Amazon Prime operate. Not only does the bill fail to address the content issue that Americans are concerned about, but the legislation could actually harm some of the tech products consumers enjoy most.
It’s like taking a broken laptop to the car mechanic for repairs.
Earlier this month, in the midst of the Facebook Files disclosures, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) introduced the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, a bill in the Senate meant to change how the largest tech companies in the United States operate.
The legislation prohibits top tech companies from preferencing their own products or services on their own platform. That means the bill would stop Google from listing its own map results at the top of a search, and prevent Apple from preinstalling Facetime or iMessage on its own iPhones.
To the detriment of consumers, the bill would also likely break Amazon Prime. In order to make Prime and its two-day shipping model work for consumers, Amazon provides small businesses with the option of paying an additional merchant fee to be included in its fulfillment service. Klobuchar’s bill would likely prevent Amazon from funding Prime through those merchant fees, effectively defunding free two-day shipping.
But when it comes to malicious content, the bill does nothing to stop insurrectionists from spreading QAnon conspiracies on social media. It doesn’t touch self-harm posts on TikTok or explicit content on Snapchat. And it does nothing to address any of the Facebook issues brought to light by the whistleblower documents.
Unfortunately, those facts haven’t stopped Klobuchar from pitching her bill as the solution needed to address the Facebook files outrage and protect children online.
Fortunately, some lawmakers have quietly worked on solutions that would make online communities safer and mitigate the health impacts of social media on children.
A perfect example is the CAMRA Act, legislation that would support National Institutes of Health research into digital media’s health effects on children. We also need a long-delayed federal consumer privacy law. And last month, lawmakers in the House proposed the creation of a new federal privacy and security bureau within the Federal Trade Commission to protect Americans in the digital world.
All of these bills would help guard the safety and security of voters and children when they go online. These are solutions designed to address a problem that consumers face. They’re the computer repair technician to our spinning wheel of death.
But instead, Congress is headed to the autobody shop to fiddle with completely different parts of the internet. Americans today are reliant on the internet for jobs, school and connecting with loved ones; we’re left hoping they don’t throw a wrench into the works.
Adam Kovacevich is CEO and Founder of the Chamber of Progress (progresschamber.org), a new center-left tech industry policy coalition promoting technology’s progressive future; corporate partners for Chamber of Progress include Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook.
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