Social media: Last week, Congress passed a bipartisan spending bill that effectively banned TikTok from being installed on government devices.
As 2023 goes underway, legislators and advocates shared plans of further regulating social media companies this year.
Chinese company ByteDance owns the popular video-sharing app, which rakes in more than 1 billion users monthly.
FBI director Christopher Wray and several lawmakers have made their corners over the TikTik ownership structure clear in recent months.
They said the structure makes US user data vulnerable.
In addition, Chinese-based companies are required by law to give user information to the government if they request it.
China has two pieces of legislation that have concerned the US government since 2019: the 2014 Counter-Espionage Law and the 2017 National Intelligence Law.
The Counter-Espionage law states that when the state security organ investigates espionage and comes up with relevant information, the organizations and individuals must provide it and “may not refuse.”
Meanwhile, Article 7 of the Intelligence Law says that organizations or citizens should support, assist, and cooperate with state intelligence work.
Additionally, the state protects those who help them.
TikTok has reiterated that US user data is not based in China, but their assurances have had little to no effect.
Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Republican from Wisconsin, compared TikTok to “digital fentanyl.”
He also believes the ban on the app should be expanded across the country.
“It’s highly addictive and destructive,” said Gallagher.
“We’re seeing troubling data about the corrosive impact of constant social media use, particularly on young men and women here in America.”
Social media regulation
Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower, said that social media platforms like TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube operate under similar algorithms.
Thus, she believes regulators should push for more transparency about how they work as a first step.
According to Haugen, she thinks most people are unaware of how behind the US is when it comes to social media regulation.
“This is like we’re back in 1965,” said Haugen. “We don’t have seatbelt laws yet.”
Tech bills in 2022
Last year, Congress could not pass some of the most aggressive bills focused on tech.
The laws that failed to pass include the antitrust legislation and a measure for protecting kids.
In early 2022, lawmakers conjured a tech competition bill that targeted Apple and Google’s mobile app stores.
The bill had restrictions on the developers.
Previously, they advanced the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which has some of the same goals.
The Act also prevents established firms from unfairly ranking their own products over others or discriminating against their rivals.
The bill states that app stores with more than 50 million US users wouldn’t require developers to utilize the platform’s payment system for distribution.
Developers also can’t be punished for offering their apps at different prices elsewhere.
Kids Online Safety Act
In November, Senators Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn led a bipartisan bill to establish responsibilities for sites children 16 or younger are likely to access.
The bill stated that platforms would have to be responsible for mitigating the risk of physical or emotional harm to young users through the following content:
- Encouragement of addictive behavior
- Enabling online bullying
- Predatory marketing
Additionally, the bill would have required sites to default to private settings and limit contacts that could connect with them.
Several groups met the bill with opposition, even as lawmakers revised it.
Although Congress made better progress in 2022 toward a compromise bill on national privacy standards, there is still a patchwork of state laws determining how to protect consumer data.
According to Senator Amy Klobuchar, bipartisan support exists for many bills that have made it to the Senate floor.
However, she said the strength of the tech lobby is powerful enough that strong bipartisan support could fall apart within 24 hours.
On Sunday, Klobuchar said things would only change within social media companies when Americans decide they have had enough.
“We are lagging behind,” said Klobuchar.
“It is time for 2023, let it be our resolution, that we finally pass one of these bills.”