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House Republicans Wednesday proposed a new framework for dealing with big tech companies that would expedite antitrust cases and allow users to sue platforms for censoring their speech.
The agenda, released by House Judiciary Committee ranking member Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), outlines specific proposals Republicans on the committee will attempt to include in legislation. The roadmap calls for legislation that would “speed up and strengthen antitrust enforcement, hold Big Tech accountable for its censorship, and increase transparency around Big Tech’s decisions.”
Jordan’s agenda is the latest attempt by House Republicans to secure more stringent speech protections for conservatives on major social media platforms. While the majority of Republicans endorse this approach, a smaller contingent of lawmakers wants to target tech companies for their size and market power. Last month, the House Judiciary Committee voted to advance a package of bipartisan bills that would empower regulators to go after big tech monopolies.
One of the agenda’s proposals would allow state attorneys general to appeal antitrust cases directly to the Supreme Court. Another proposal, originally from Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah), would move antitrust enforcement from the Federal Trade Commission to the Department of Justice. A third would punish “subjective content moderation decisions,” making it harder for social media companies to censor certain viewpoints.
Jordan’s agenda specifically targets Section 230, a federal law that says companies are not liable for the speech on their platforms. The agenda proposes stripping away those protections so users can sue social media companies. But experts have questioned whether removing Section 230 protections from tech companies would lead to freer expression online.
Some Republicans want to go beyond removing Section 230 protections. Rep. Ken Buck (R., Colo.) has cosponsored several bipartisan bills that would stop mergers and acquisitions from big companies and could force them to break up their businesses into separate product lines.
Those bills would substantially increase the FTC’s power, a move Jordan and his allies oppose. Lina Khan, President Joe Biden’s newly appointed FTC chair, has called for far more aggressive antitrust enforcement against large digital companies. Khan was confirmed by the Senate in a bipartisan 69-28 vote.
House Judiciary Committee members clashed over the FTC’s role during a recent markup of Buck’s legislation. Some lawmakers expressed concern over comments from FTC commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, a Democrat, indicating the Biden administration plans to use the FTC to promote social justice goals. Slaughter has said FTC enforcement can’t be “value-neutral” and in a Tweet called for using antitrust tools to create an “#antiracist economy.”
In that markup, GOP lawmakers clashed over antitrust provisions, with Buck calling attempts from Jordan and Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) to insert Section 230 changes into his bills “poison pills,” designed to force Democrats to vote no on big tech restrictions. He also suggested both Democrats and Republicans from California were too cozy with tech companies.
Legislation on reining in tech companies will likely not receive a vote until this fall. A bipartisan group of California lawmakers said the bills were “not close to ready for floor consideration.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) said he had no imminent plans to bring the bills to a vote, noting that Democrats were split over them.