Why a crackdown on Facebook, Google and Twitter could come from the states before Congress

Why a crackdown on Facebook, Google and Twitter could come from the states before Congress

Along with Maryland, leaders from New York to Washington state have pitched new bills that would make more information about online political ads available to local voters. “We are literally seeing states become the laboratories of democracy that people have talked about because there’s tremendous public demand right now,” said Shum Preston, the national director of advocacy and communications for Common Sense Kids Action, an activist group that has helped advance bot legislation in California. Over the past year, the U.S. Congress has convened hearings and threatened Facebook, Google, Twitter and their Silicon Valley counterparts with new regulation. Other federal efforts to rein in the tech industry similarly have faltered. That could create a regulatory landscape where tech giants have to submit to a host of fresh, potentially conflicting laws governing content on their platforms. “As always, we will be working closely with policymakers around the country to ensure they understand the real-world implications that any given policy proposal could have on this bright spot in our economy.” One emerging battleground is Maryland, where legislators this year have proposed a new bill that would require tech companies to make copies of political ads about state candidates available for public inspection. The bill backed by Alonzo Washington, the delegate from Maryland, had a February hearing in the state House, and the Senate convened its own session Thursday. “It wasn’t really not until things happened in 2016 that there was interest,” said Bradley Shear, a Maryland lawyer who specializes in social media and testified at the House hearing. Andrew M. Cuomo teamed up with lawmakers in the state Assembly to pass its own version of the federal Honest Ads Act. This year, Facebook joined Google, Twitter and other tech giants that are part of the Internet Association to ward off a bill in Washington state that also might have subjected them to tougher transparency requirements.

AP FACT CHECK: Trump tells tall tales even without Twitter
No talking trash, but Suh wants to make Brady mad
Winfrey’s Golden Globes speech sparks talk of 2020 campaign
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Buffer
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
Some of the Facebook and Instagram ads linked to a Russian effort to disrupt the American political process and stir up tensions around divisive social issues. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

Alonzo Washington delivered a dire warning to his fellow delegates in Maryland’s legislature last month: Russia might try to influence their elections, too.

So the Democratic veteran set about doing something that’s eluded his federal counterparts in the nation’s capital: advancing legislation to regulate tech giants like Facebook, Google and Twitter.

At a time when the U.S. Congress seems paralyzed by partisanship — and either too reluctant or distracted to take on Silicon Valley’s most powerful players — Maryland is among a growing roster of states trying to remedy some of the most pressing ills of the digital age.

Along with Maryland, leaders from New York to Washington state have pitched new bills that would make more information about online political ads available to local voters. In California, meanwhile, state leaders are taking aim at the scourge of social-media bots, or networks of computer-directed accounts often used to amplify misinformation.

“We are literally seeing states become the laboratories of democracy that people have talked about because there’s tremendous public demand right now,” said Shum Preston, the national director of advocacy and communications for Common Sense Kids Action, an activist group that has helped advance bot legislation in California.

“The country is clamoring for these bills, they’re clamoring for these protections online,” he said, “and Washington is falling down on the job.”

Of course, local policymakers face the same challenges as their federal brethren: They must navigate their legislatures’ labyrinthine corridors of power, explaining complex tech issues to their political peers, who may not know the industry well.

If they succeed, however, supporters hope they might soon spur other states — and, eventually, the federal government — to take similar action.

Over the past year, the U.S. Congress has convened hearings and threatened Facebook, Google, Twitter and their Silicon Valley counterparts with new regulation. In response to Russia’s efforts to spread online propaganda during the 2016 election, for example, Democratic Sens. Mark R. Warner (Va.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) introduced a bill that would impose a host of new ad-transparency requirements on major web platforms.

But their Honest Ads Act hasn’t been formally debated almost five months since its introduction. Its passage in time for the 2018 midterm elections seems increasingly unlikely. Other federal efforts to rein in the tech industry similarly have faltered. In the meantime, Facebook, Google and Twitter each has announced plans to disclose more information about their advertisers to users in a bid to ward off federal regulation.

Outside the nation’s capital, however, the looming fear is that one state seeking to set new rules governing the tech industry might prompt others to follow suit. That could create a regulatory landscape where tech giants have to submit to a host of…

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This