Senate Dems Pump Brakes on Klobuchar Antitrust Pet Project As Time Runs Out

In a letter to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), four Senate Democrats raised a “significant issue” with the “American Innovation and Choice Online Act” (S. 2992). 

Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) are concerned that the bill would “hinder content moderation practices” and have suggested draft language that may increase Big Tech censorship of conservatives online. 

This puts AICOA sponsor Klobuchar in a terrible position. If Klobuchar makes the suggested change, she will alienate Republicans with justified anger at Big Tech censorship. If Klobuchar does not make the change, she risks losing Democrats who want social media companies to have even more license to target conservatives online. Klobuchar is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t. 

Photo Credit: Lorie Shaull from St Paul, United States, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One thing remains clear – Klobuchar’s pet project is nowhere near ready for a floor vote. Republicans concerned about Big Tech censorship should not vote for a bill that would make the problem far worse. 

S. 2992 lays out ten different actions deemed unlawful for companies over a government-set size. The most notable provision bans targeted platforms from promoting their own private-label products next to offerings from competing businesses on the platform, the online equivalent of banning grocery stores from selling generic cereal on the shelf next to Cheerios and Frosted Flakes. 

None of the provisions prevent companies from targeting users based on political viewpoints. The only one that remotely comes close is Section 3(a)(3), which makes it unlawful for targeted companies to “discriminate in the application or enforcement of the terms of service of the covered platform among similarly situated business users in a manner that would materially harm competition.” 

Think this prevents conservative censorship? Think again. 

Section 3(b) lays out several affirmative defenses for companies accused of anticompetitive conduct. One defense would allow the conduct if it is done to “protect safety, user privacy, the security of nonpublic data, or the security of the covered platform.”

This provision should make the hair on every conservative’s neck stand straight up. The left often uses generic euphemisms like “safety” and “security” as justification to silence conservative viewpoints online. All the Big Tech companies have “safety” or “trust” departments in charge of political censorship that only seems to go in one direction. 

Passing this bill would codify new federal enforcement mechanisms behind these liberal euphemisms and make the Biden DOJ and FTC judge, jury, and executioner over the routine business activity of American companies. 

Progressives are openly celebrating the bill because of its potential to increase conservative censorship. The Center for American Progress endorsed the bill on the grounds that it will spurr “much needed improvements in content moderation and technologies.” Whatever so-called “improvements” that the left has in mind for content moderation will certainly not work out in favor of conservatives. 

In the letter, Senate Democrats said Section 3(a)(3) could “supercharge harmful content online and make it more difficult to combat,” and put competition policy “in direct conflict with the ability of companies to take down hate speech, disinformation, and misinformation, and other objectionable content…” The suggested change would clarify that platforms have immunity for their content moderation decisions in accordance with the First Amendment and Section 230. 

The fact that Democrats are targeting the bill’s very mild nod to conservative concerns with Big Tech is troubling to say the least. As is, the bill would make conservative censorship worse by codifying the left’s nebulous definitions of “disinformation” into law. Republicans should reject any version of S. 2992.