The bill that senior House Republicans introduced this month to prohibit federal officials from pressuring social media companies to censor speech has some experts worried it could hamstring government efforts to combat online content that’s widely perceived as harmful, including threats to public safety.
Republicans say the bill is designed to protect free speech on social media, but language directing officials not to use their authority or influence to “promote” or “advocate” the removal of content is raising questions about how those terms would be defined and whether public officials might themselves be muzzled.
Federal warnings about online Russian disinformation, health problems that result from online behavior, and public safety could, given the reach of federal officials, be interpreted as pressuring the platforms to remove that content, technology policy experts say.
“It’s kind of a half-baked messaging bill more than it is something that’s a carefully crafted piece of policy. There are so many ramifications of something that’s this broadly overreaching,” said Cheyenne Hunt, the Big Tech accountability advocate for the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.
James R. Comer, R-Ky., who leads the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, is the bill sponsor, reintroducing a measure he first offered in the last Congress. He said in a statement that it’s meant to stop the Biden administration from “bullying social media companies to censor certain views and news.”