House Republicans pass bill to ban federal officials from pressuring tech platforms on content

House Republicans on Thursday passed a bill to bar federal officials from promoting censorship, a measure Republicans introduced in response to what they say are Biden administration efforts to persuade corporations of social media to delete certain information.

THE measuretitled Protecting Speech from Government Interference Act, passed in a vote of 219-206 on the party line.

The legislation specifically calls for prohibiting “federal employees from advocating for the censorship of views in their official capacity,” which includes the recommendation that a third party should “take steps to censor speech.”

According to Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the measure’s lead sponsor, the bill would expand the limits under the Hatch Act to prohibit federal employees from encouraging censorship on private sector internet platforms.

Republicans accuse Democrats of pressuring social media companies to remove content, including on Hunter Biden and the origins of COVID-19. They also report platforms limiting the scope or adding fact checks to posts containing misinformation about the 2020 election and the coronavirus pandemic.

When the measure was introduced in January, the bill’s sponsors — Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Comer — cited what they said were instances where federal officials in the Biden administration “used their positions, influence, and resources to control and censor the speech of ordinary Americans expressed on social media platforms.”

In the House on Wednesday, Comer – who chairs the oversight committee – pointed to the group hearing last month when lawmakers “learned how easy it is for the federal government to influence a private company to do what it constitutionally cannot: limit free speech.”

At one point during the hearing, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) asked Yoel Roth, the former global head of trust and safety at Twitter, how many tweets had been flagged and deleted at the request from the Biden administration.

Roth denied characterizing the issue, telling lawmakers that “tweets have been flagged and Twitter has independently assessed them under its rules.”

The hearing also featured references to “Twitter Files,” reports by journalists that include internal communications between company employees and outside actors. David Zweig, who posted one of the “Twitter Files” episodes, said internal company files he reviewed “showed that the Trump and Biden administrations directly pressed Twitter executives to moderate the platform’s pandemic content according to their wishes.”

“It is inappropriate and dangerous for the federal government to decide what legal speech is allowed on a private sector platform,” Comer said during Wednesday’s debate.

“My bill, the Protecting Speech from Government Interference Act, makes this type of behavior an illegal activity for federal officials – subjecting those who attempt to censor Americans’ lawful speech to disciplinary action and monetary penalties,” he continued. “The feds shouldn’t be able to decide what legal speech is allowed — we have the First Amendment for a very good reason.”

Rep. Daniel Goldman (DN.Y.) argued that the bill was unnecessary because of First Amendment protections.

“This bill aims to protect freedom of expression from government censorship. And I agree, it’s a great idea. It’s such a great idea, in fact, that the founding fathers enshrined it in the Constitution,” Goldman said in the House Wednesday. “It’s called the First Amendment.”

“We don’t need a new bill to protect free speech, because it’s currently the law of the land. We must therefore ask ourselves: what is the point of this bill? he added.

The congressman, who is lead counsel in former President Trump’s first impeachment inquiry, argued the measure would allow malicious actors to continue using social media for “unfettered” or adverse reasons. .

“HR 140 would effectively allow these and other malicious foreign actors — who have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into online propaganda — to create chaos, distrust, hatred, and confusion for Americans, to continue to use social media platforms unfettered to wreak havoc on our democratic institutions, including the integrity of our elections,” Goldman said.

“It would do so by undermining the only defense we have against these operations, which is the ability of our national security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies to warn social media platforms and the public about the deployment of accounts. counterfeits, disinformation and cyber surveillance. by malicious actors,” he added.

Legislators approved a number of amendments to the bill, including one that would prohibit law enforcement officials from sharing information with social media companies unless it involves speech not protected by the First Amendment — such as the obscenity, fraud or incitement to imminent lawless action.

The measure also exempts actions by federal employees intended to “perform legitimate law enforcement functions directly related to activities to combat child pornography, human trafficking, or the unlawful transport or transaction of controlled substances and to protect or prevent the unlawful dissemination of properly classified information. national security information.

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