With help from Emily Birnbaum
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— The anti-anti-misinformation campaign: Conservatives that have long accused tech giants of censorship may now weaponize the Biden administration’s recent remarks in court.
— House takes up FTC fix: The full chamber will vote on a measure to restore one of the consumer protection powers recently stripped from the agency by the Supreme Court.
— Naming and shaming? A Republican advocacy group is launching a new effort today to remind consumers how much power ‘Big Tech’ has in D.C.
HAPPY MONDAY, ONE AND ALL. It’s John Hendel filling in again today, riding high after tasting my first New York bagel since the Before Times.
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COULD BIDEN’S MISINFO CRACKDOWN MISFIRE? — Biden had some harsh words last week about how leading social media platforms are vetting bogus vaccine info (Facebook in particular, which the president said is “killing people” with its policies). And speaking on Fox News Sunday, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said he’s “been in dialogue with a number of technology companies in good faith efforts to express my concerns to them.”
— Republicans, meanwhile, view this newfound pressure campaign as evidence the administration is “colluding” with social media giants over their content policies. Legal experts mostly scoffed at class-action lawsuits from former President Donald Trump, which accuse Facebook and Twitter of “censorship” in violation of the First Amendment. While the Constitution’s speech protections only safeguard citizens against government suppression and not private-sector content moderation, the suits claim the platforms are functioning as state actors because of their alleged coordination with Democrats and executive branch officials.
Democrats and the tech companies themselves have rejected these complaints as baseless. But now, some conservatives are arguing the White House’s own bully pulpit (press secretary Jen Psaki went so far as to dictate from the briefing room what platforms’ terms-of-service rules should look like) has given credence to these accusations.
Either way, watch for Biden administration pressure on tech to become fodder for lawsuits. “I don’t think that these statements make Facebook a state actor under the relevant First Amendment precedent,” Naval Academy law professor Jeff Kosseff, who writes extensively on online liability protections, told MT. “That said, I would not be surprised to see people who were deplatformed pointing to these statements in lawsuits against social media companies.” (Kosseff stressed that he was not speaking to your host on behalf of the Pentagon or Navy.)
— As seen on TV: Longtime politics watchers might recall the Obama administration’s own denunciations of what it labeled noxious falsehoods during its first year — though in that case, the entity it was calling out was Fox News, which administration officials believed was effective at influencing what stories other outlets picked up.
— After this latest callout by the White House, Facebook opted for a punchy defense, accusing the Biden administration over the weekend of fact-free “finger pointing.” But Democratic lawmakers didn’t let up: “Delete the misinformation accounts,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) tweeted in response, arguing the platform has a “perfect legal right” to do so. And Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) told CNN Sunday that Congress may need to look at tweaking social media’s liability protections to combat anti-vaccine content, along with greater antitrust scrutiny for tech giants.
PROPOSED FTC FIX HITS HOUSE FLOOR — House lawmakers are set to vote this week on the Consumer Protection and Recovery Act, H.R. 2668, which would restore the FTC’s Section 13(b) authority to seek monetary relief from companies that violate the law. The Supreme Court unanimously gutted that power earlier this year.
— FTC leaders have encouraged Congress to move quickly, and have earned the support of relevant committee leaders like Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). In the House, the Rules Committee will meet today to determine which amendments to H.R. 2668 might get floor votes.
Several Energy and Commerce Republicans want tweaks: Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas filed an amendment that would outlaw sending bad-faith patent demand letters for potential infringement of coronavirus-related product patents; Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Florida wanted to include a provision saying that consumers can only seek such relief in instances where a reasonable person would know the act is unfair or deceptive, and halves the statute of limitations; and Rep. Bob Latta of Ohio wants to create a new privacy standard and a fund to pay victims of data security violations.
— And in other Hill news: The House will also today take up under suspension of the rules (an expedited process usually reserved for less controversial bills and not open to amendments) a mix of E&C telecom bills. These include H.R. 678 (117), which would prevent cell service carriers from reassigning users’ phone numbers after a disaster declaration, and H.R. 1250 (117), which directs the FCC to issue reports after activating its disaster reporting system and to better report on network outages. Also on deck are multiple measures devoted to enhancing media marketplace diversity and H.R. 3003 (117), which calls for greater U.S. representation in international communications standards-setting bodies.
TURNING THE TIDE AGAINST BIG TECH’S INFLUENCE —The American Principles Project, a populist Republican group that has been advocating against the influence of “Big Tech,” is launching a project today that’s certain to stir up debate, as GOP resistance to the influence of Silicon Valley money in Washington escalates.
— BigTechFunding.org tracks which nonprofits, think tanks and academic centers receive funding from Facebook, Google, Amazon and/or Apple, based on publicly available disclosures. One of the datasets tracks the tech funding behind 400 groups; the other, which comes with a browser extension, includes 200 groups.
Jon Schweppe, the director of policy and government affairs at the APP, said he launched the project after hearing from staffers on Capitol Hill who were confused about which groups involved in policy debates about the tech sector receive money from those same companies. He said it’s particularly important as the House Judiciary Committee continues to work through bipartisan tech antitrust bills, which tech companies and their robust apparatuses in the Capitol have aggressively lobbied against. “It’s a needed transparency tool as we have this antitrust fight, especially because a lot of these groups are lobbying these offices directly,” Schweppe said.
— The website also offers a “Big Tech Funding Browser Extension,” which adds disclosures to tweets from groups that take money from big tech companies. For instance, the browser extension would add a disclosure that says “Warning: This group is funded by Google, Facebook and Amazon” to tweets from the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, or the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank. Schweppe said he knows it’ll ruffle some feathers.
— The effort already has some high-profile backers. Makan Delrahim, the former assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s antitrust division, told Emily that he thinks it’s a good idea because “as a law enforcer, I always wanted to have as much transparency as possible in motivations of outside witnesses and complainants.”
MEANWHILE: NEW REPORT TRIES TO GAME OUT TELECOM’S INFLUENCE, TOO — Advocacy group Common Cause is today unveiling a report that attempts to pull back the veil on how much money has flowed from the telecom sector into lobbying efforts. Published in partnership with the Communications Workers of America union, the study looks at the millions of dollars spent in recent years by companies like Comcast, Charter, AT&T and Verizon, as well as trade groups and other efforts trying to spread the industry’s message in Washington.
— Stakes for the infrastructure fight: Report co-author Yosef Getachew believes the internet service providers are generally aligned against many of the public interest reforms that he and other broadband advocates hope to see in the bipartisan infrastructure package — broadband pricing transparency provisions, support for municipal broadband and higher speed threshold requirements, to name a few.
Telecoms companies’ prolific spending — “$200 million of lobbying expenditures in the last session of Congress alone,” Getachew told MT — shows how extensive these companies’ efforts are to maintain their market dominance. If those consumer-friendly provisions he favors are ultimately cut from the broadband deal, “you can likely tie that back to lobbying,” he added.
— The report includes recommendations, including strengthening the disclosure requirements imposed on lobbying Capitol Hill to include breakdowns of specific lobbying meetings rather than just quarterly reports, which often lack granular detail.
Reps. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and Lance Gooden (R-Texas) form the Freedom from Big Tech Caucus … Ericsson and Verizon sign multi-year $8.3-billion deal on 5G … President Joe Biden announced his intent to nominate Laurie Locascio to head the National Institute of Standards and Technology … The FCC Wireless Bureau approved AT&T’s proposed DirecTV spinoff.
Not feeling the flow: A new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation found the number of countries with regulatory barriers blocking the free flow of data across borders has doubled in four years.
Phone infection: “Military-grade spyware licensed by an Israeli firm to governments for tracking terrorists and criminals was used in attempted and successful hacks of 37 smartphones belonging to journalists, human rights activists, business executives and two women close to murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” The Washington Post reports.
DACA disappointments: Tech giants including Google and Microsoft are crying foul in the wake of a federal judge’s ruling that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is unlawful, via Reuters.
Competition corner: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) says Congress needs to pass legislation to complement the vision laid out in the White House executive order on competition (more on that administration effort via POLITICO).
Airdropping internet? The Associated Press explains one novel idea to help get Cubans online (FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr is a fan).
The Zoom where it happens: The videoconferencing app is making a $14.7 billion acquisition that “will help Zoom expand its potential offerings for business and enterprise clients,” The Wall Street Journal reports.
How are those broadband maps coming? Acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel updated Congress in a new letter released Friday, noting agency staff are “expeditiously” reviewing mapping-related bids received this month.
Virginia is for internet lovers: “Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced that the state plans to invest $700 million in American Rescue Plan funding to reach universal broadband connectivity by 2024,” the Verge writes.
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