Congress Wants More Social Media Regulation in 2023

Photo of a phone with TikTok app open
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TikTok was just the beginning.

Last month, the US Congress banned the Chinese-owned platform from all government devices, and now members are saying they want to install still more social media regulations for the new year. So Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook all better watch their backs in 2023 because Congress might be creeping.

The Ban-ish Hammer

The TikTok ban was cited as a national security measure rather than a way to keep federal staffers from wasting their time finding out if it was a “bones or no bones” day. Chinese companies are required by law to hand over user data to their government if requested, but while TikTok and its parent company ByteDance have repeatedly said no US user data is accessed by China, leaked audio from company meetings says otherwise.

Now Congress wants to go even further. Voicing concern for America’s mental state, Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin called TikTok “digital fentanyl” and said it should be banned throughout the entire country. “It’s highly addictive and destructive,” he said on NBC’s Meet the Press. Taking on Big Tech won’t be easy, though. As we all know, the only thing more powerful than Capitol Hill lawmakers are Silicon Valley lobbyists:

  • In 2020, the Trump administration tried banning TikTok nationwide and removing it from Apple and Google app stores, but federal judges halted the action, saying Trump would be overstepping his emergency economic powers.
  • Last year, Congress failed to pass multiple bills that would regulate big tech and social media such as the Kids Online Safety Act and an antitrust measure that would have prohibited major companies like Amazon and Google from promoting their products unfairly over smaller businesses that rely on their services.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said even when a bill has strong bi-partisan support, the tech lobby is so powerful that promising legislation can disintegrate “within 24 hours.”

Way Behind the 8 Ball: The US is a relative piker when it comes to regulating tech. The EU became big tech’s biggest adversary in 2022 when it passed the Digital Markets Act, which seeks to reign in the market dominance of gatekeepers like Microsoft, Meta, and Apple and level the playing field for smaller, third-party tech companies. In countries like France, Germany, and Singapore, social media companies have only 24 hours to remove hateful content, extremist views, and misinformation from their sites or risk being fined millions of dollars. Frances Haugen, the whistleblower who claimed Facebook’s lax security allows for the spread of misinformation and harms the mental state of young users, said the US feels like “we’re back in 1965, we don’t have seatbelt laws yet.” Sounds like the makings of a TikTok challenge.