(Washington, DC) — Senators Chris Coons, Amy Klobuchar, and Rob Portman yesterday introduced the Platform Accountability and Transparency Act, which would shine a light on the inner workings of big tech platforms and enshrine the role of researchers and journalists in understanding the role of social media in our democracy. 

“This is a commendable legislative proposal that thoughtfully addresses a number of urgent needs,” said Nadine Farid Johnson, PEN America’s Washington director. “PEN America supports the goals and the core provisions of this bill, and views it as a valuable starting point for addressing the alarming lack of transparency around the inner workings of the social media platforms that so directly impact our lives.”  

“Researchers and journalists need data and need protection from legal exposure if we are to have a fact-based discussion about how to fight disinformation and ensure that everyone has the access to quality information and the practical ability to express themselves online,” said Matt Bailey, PEN America’s digital freedom program director. 

Farid Johnson continued: “We welcome this legislation as perhaps the most serious effort to date to begin this conversation on Capitol Hill, and urge that hearings on the bill be convened as soon as possible in both the House and Senate to review and refine the proposals.”

The bill is wide-ranging—incorporating considerations from cybersecurity to algorithmic bias—and creates important roles and authorities, in particular for the Federal Trade Commission and National Science Foundation. It would also create important legal safe harbors for journalists, researchers, and the companies themselves in sharing data in the public interest.

PEN America has continually spoken out against the excesses of social media companies. Its March 2021 report No Excuse for Abuse: What Social Media Companies Can Do Now to Combat Online Harassment and Empower Users endorsed giving outside researchers access to platform data, in order to evaluate methods of curbing cyber abuse.