Senate Republicans Introduce Legislation To Hold Big Tech Accountable For Censoring Stories On COVID Origins And Engaging In Anti-Competitive Behavior

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, Pool

Choosing not to let the crisis of the lab leak theory go to waste, several Senate republicans led by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, are pushing to pass a bill that will ensure Big Tech is held accountable for anti-speech behavior, especially as it relates to stories about how the COVID virus originated.

Calling tech censorship “a serious, grave threat to freedom and the open exchange of ideas under our constitution,” Wicker announced legislation Thursday called the Promoting Rights and Online Speech Protections to Ensure Every Consumer is Heard (PRO-SPEECH) Act that seeks to “prohibit Big Tech from engaging in unfair, deceptive, or anti-competitive practices that limit or control online speech.”

Wicker’s release describing the act laid out the goals of the legislation, which encompasses not just speech but addresses anti-competitive behavior in general.

“The big social media companies continue to abuse their market power by censoring content, suppressing certain viewpoints, and prioritizing favored political speech,” said Wicker. “My bill would put safeguards in place to preserve internet freedom, promote competition, and protect consumers from these blatantly biased practices. It is time for Congress to act to ensure the internet can be an open forum where diverse views are expressed.”

The PRO-SPEECH Act would:

  • Preserve consumers’ ability to access lawful content, applications, services, or devices that do not interfere with an internet platform’s functionality or pose a data privacy or data security risk to a user;
  • Prohibit internet platforms from taking any actions against users based on racial, sexual, religious, partisan, or ethnic grounds;
  • Prohibit large internet platforms from blocking or discriminating against competing internet platforms by declaring such actions presumptively anti-competitive;
  • Require an internet platform to disclose to the public accurate information regarding the platform management practices, performance characteristics, and commercial terms of service of any app store, cloud computing service, operating system, search engine, or social media network it owns; and
  • Authorize the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the Act under Section 5 of the FTC Act notwithstanding any other provision of law.

At a press conference Thursday, Wicker expounded on his concerns over Big Tech, questioning how “multi-rich powerful internet platform[s]” get to make decisions to potentially de-platform conservative news sites, suspend former President Donald Trump’s accounts, or censor coverage they unilaterally decide might cause a panic.

“The last quarter of a century has seen an enormous growth in the internet and much of it has been positive as we know. But the result of this quarter century has been that it has allowed a handful of internet big tech platforms to grow enormously large, enormously rich, and enormously powerful to the point where they decide what is the news, what information the public is going to get and what information is going to be blocked,” stated Senator Roger Wicker during the press conference. “This is a serious, grave threat to freedom and the open exchange of ideas under our constitution and I’m glad to stand with these members on this task.”

Concerns over tech censorship have not been contained to the United States. The European Union has joined the U.S. in calling for a new investigation into the World Health Organization over that agency’s early proclamations about an organic origin of the COVID virus. That new call comes on the heels of recent reports that allege a lab leak at a Wuhan lab studying coronaviruses could have caused the pandemic.

“These large internet tech platforms cannot discriminate based on their own opinions and based on what they think the public should and should not be allowed to hear,” Wicker said Thursday.

Tennessee Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn, who joined Wicker at Thursday’s press conference, made no bones about the Senators’ collective thoughts on Big Tech’s role of quieting the lab-leak theory.

“They have stepped over the line on this one,” she said.