WASHINGTON—Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) today published a draft bill titled the “Platform Transparency and Accountability Act.” The bill is designed to support independent research on the largest social media platforms while protecting user privacy.

The following can be attributed to Alex Abdo, litigation director, Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.

“Today, journalists and researchers who study social media platforms and their effect on society have limited access to important data and operate under the threat of legal sanction by large internet companies. The Platform Transparency and Accountability Act would help facilitate urgently needed research by providing a safe harbor for research and journalism that is in the public interest and that respects user privacy. The bill offers a promising path forward toward improving our understanding of the outsized role that social media companies play in shaping public discourse online.”

There are three major provisions in the bill: special data access for qualified research projects, “safe harbor” provisions for journalism and research, and requirements that would empower the Federal Trade Commission to issue regulations relating to platform transparency.

Since 2018, the Knight First Amendment Institute has been advocating for a “safe harbor” for public-interest research and journalism focused on the social media platforms. In August of that year, the Institute sent a public letter to Facebook urging the company to amend its terms of service to permit public-interest investigations that respected user privacy. And in 2019, the Institute published an open letter from more than 200 digital researchers urging Facebook to adopt the Institute’s safe-harbor proposal. Although representatives from Facebook contacted the Institute to discuss the proposal, the company ultimately rejected it.

Since October 2020, the Institute has been representing two New York University researchers, Laura Edelson and Damon McCoy, in their personal capacities, after Facebook sent them a cease-and-desist letter demanding that they discontinue use of a tool crucial to studying political ads on Facebook’s platform. Earlier this year, Facebook abruptly shut down their accounts, undermining their research and the research of others who study political ads.

Read more about the Institute’s ongoing work to lift restrictions on research and journalism on social media platforms here.

Read today’s draft bill here.

For more information, contact: Lorraine Kenny, communications director, [email protected]