U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Emerging Threats and Spending Oversight Subcommittee, along with Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Dr. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), today introduced the bipartisan Platform Accountability and Transparency Act (PATA), a bill that would require social media companies to share more data with the public and researchers.
“The threat social media has on the well-being of our young people and our national security is becoming more and more evident,” said Senator Romney. “By increasing data access and transparency, this legislation will help parents, policymakers, and researchers better understand the impacts social media has on society, and allow Congress to craft policies that create a healthier online experience for children and all Americans.”
“Social media platforms shape the information that billions of people across the globe consume, but we still know far too little about how they operate and the impact they have on each of us and our society. Right now, Congress and the public have no way to verify whether or how safe these products really are,” said Senator Coons. “We cannot continue to let platforms grade their own homework. That’s why I’m introducing the Platform Accountability and Transparency Act, which will give the public a data-driven understanding of the effects that these platforms have on our children, families, democracy, and national security. This bipartisan bill is a crucial step that will help ensure social media regulation addresses the problems facing our communities today.”
“It’s clear Big Tech companies will abuse their power when allowed to operate in the dark. Congress needs the tools to hold these companies accountable. Our bill gives us transparency into data collection by social media companies,” said Senator Cassidy.
“Social media companies have said: ‘just trust us,’ while putting profits ahead of users’ safety, privacy, and well-being for too long. It’s time to start holding these platforms accountable for the dangerous lack of transparency behind their algorithms,” said Senator Klobuchar. “Our bipartisan legislation will do just that, ensuring independent researchers can access platform data and better understand how their algorithms operate.”
“Social media platforms have given rise to new threats to our national security, our mental health, and our children, and we must better understand how these companies operate and their effect on society,” said Senator Cornyn. “This legislation would strengthen independent researchers’ access to data from social media companies, and I urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to support it.”
“Social media platforms and their black box algorithms have fueled a mental health crisis in our country. By operating under a cloak of secrecy, Big Tech has been able to profit off the toxic content and addictive features it drives at users,” said Senator Blumenthal. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant, which is why the public and independent researchers deserve access to companies’ data and practices. I’m proud to join my colleagues in this effort to strengthen transparency online.”
In January 2022, The Washington Post editorial board endorsed PATA—then in a discussion draft form—as a “step toward solving our social media woes” that would provide “safe harbor not only to participating academics but also compliant companies and [mandate] the creation of privacy and cybersecurity standards for the process.”
PATA is a multipronged bill that creates new mechanisms to increase transparency around social media companies’ internal data:
Under PATA, independent researchers would be able to submit proposals to the National Science Foundation, an independent agency that approves research and development proposals across the sciences. If the requests are approved, social media companies would be required to provide the necessary data to the researchers subject to strict privacy protections.
Additionally, the bill would require that platforms proactively make certain information available to researchers and the public on an ongoing basis, such as:
A comprehensive ad library;
Statistics about content moderation;
Real-time data about viral content; and
Descriptions of a platform’s ranking and recommendation algorithms.
The proposal would also protect researchers from legal liability that may arise from automatically collecting public-facing platform information if they comply with various privacy safeguards.
This bill has been endorsed by the Council for Responsible Social Media, American Psychological Association, Mozilla, Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development, Fairplay, and Common Sense Media. This bill was previously introduced in December 2022.
“Transparency is a crucial goal in the push for responsible and accountable social media,” said Dick Gephardt, former U.S. House Majority Leader (D-MO) and Co-Chair of the Council for Responsible Social Media. “How can we truly address the challenges posed by social media without knowing the nature, scope, and scale of these problems? How can we safeguard our children, our communities, and our national security from online harms without fully knowing what we’re up against? PATA is the key to unlocking the black box of social media, and a necessary component of any social media reform.”
“Every day, Big Tech companies make decisions that affect our children, our communities, and ultimately, our democracy,” said Kerry Healey, former Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts (R) and Co-Chair of the Council for Responsible Social Media. “Social media is deeply embedded in our society, and yet, we know almost nothing about the policies and design choices of these platforms. The American public deserves to know how their personal data is being used and what impacts it has on their lives. PATA will ensure that these companies can no longer operate in secrecy.”
“The Platform and Accountability Act takes important steps to increase the ability of psychological scientists studying the impact of social media to gain access to data held by social media platforms,” said Mitch Prinstein, PhD, Chief Science Officer of the American Psychological Association. “This bipartisan legislation will increase our scientific understanding of this complex issue and enable caregivers, young people, and policymakers to mitigate the harmful impacts of social media use.”
The text of the bill is available here. A one-pager on the bill is available here. A section-by-section summary of the bill is available here.