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Big Tech groups step up lobbying amid fight to moderate social media content – ​​OpenSecrets

(Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Two tech industry groups increased their lobbying spending in the first quarter of 2022 as they were embroiled in legal battles challenging the constitutionality of laws cracking down on social media content moderation.

The Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and NetChoice – the two tech industry groups – represent several “Big Tech” companies, including Facebook’s parent company Meta, as well as Twitter and Alphabet Inc., the parent company of YouTube and Google.

On Tuesday, the urgent request for an injunction from the two industrial groups in NetChoice vs. Paxton was granted when the US Supreme Court blocked a controversial Texas law allowing residents and the state attorney general to sue social media companies over certain content moderation decisions. Texas law would prohibit technology platforms from removing or restricting content based on the “point of view represented in the user’s expression.”

The CCIA and NetChoice argue that the Texas bill would unconstitutionally prevent social media platforms from removing content from neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan and Holocaust supporters and deniers. It would also prevent the platforms from removing Russian propaganda regarding its invasion of Ukraine.

The Supreme Court order is temporary, blocking the law while a constitutional challenge continues until there is a ruling on how the First Amendment applies to social media platform moderation .

The court’s emergency order suspends an appeals court decision that unblocked the law earlier in May. After the Texas law passed in 2021, a federal judge blocked it from taking effect while tech trade groups challenged its constitutionality.

Texas Republicans passed the law to address perceived liberal biases of social media platforms amid growing concerns about the power of Silicon Valley and a flurry of state and federal legislative activity aimed at regulating the “Big Tech”.

In the first quarter of 2022, NetChoice spent $170,000 on lobbying — a record amount for the group to spend in a single quarter that rivals its annual lobbying totals in some previous years. The group spent a total of $180,000 on lobbying in 2021, including just $20,000 in the first quarter.

In addition to big spending, NetChoice has leveraged the “revolving door” of former government officials, most recently hiring former Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) as a lobbyist in February.

During Q1 2022, NetChoice lobbied to “support current legal rules holding content creators responsible for material they create and post” and support “rules holding Internet intermediaries responsible for content only when they are responsible in whole or in part for creating content,” Lobbying Disclosure Act filings reviewed by OpenSecrets show.

The tech industry group opposes “legislation to shift liability from content creators to unaccountable intermediaries in content creation” and “legislation to prevent platforms from moderating user posts. “, according to lobbying statements.

Lobbying disclosures covering the first quarter of 2022 also note that lobbyists for the tech group “have extensively discussed content moderation issues, including social media companies’ First Amendment protections, with Hill staff” in this regard. regarding “draft content moderation proposals”.

NetChoice also lobbied on a range of “other technology-related issues,” including antitrust, Section 230, and “other technology-related issues.”

The CCIA has also stepped up its lobbying, spending $160,000 in the first quarter of 2022, up from $20,000 in the same period a year earlier. In 2021, the CCIA spent a total of $285,000 on lobbying throughout the year. The last time CCIA lobbying spending in a single quarter topped $160,000 was in 2014, a year that saw an increase in tech industry lobbying spending across the board. .

The association lobbied on a range of topics impacting the tech industry in 2022, including Section 230, copyright issues, online taxation, open internet, broadband rollout , encryption, data portability, skilled immigration and antitrust.

The CCIA ramped up its lobbying efforts in 2022 with ads claiming bills that would ban ‘self-preference’ would ‘break’ Amazon Prime delivery services by preventing big tech companies from granting ‘status or placement’ preferred” to their own products, as Amazon provides complementary services such as free shipping for Amazon Prime products on its own platform.

In 2021, the CCIA and NetChoice signed a letter along with other industry groups condemning a legislative package aimed at breaking up big tech companies.

On May 12, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) introduced the Digital Platform Commission Act, which would create a new five-person commission to create rules to ensure tech companies are transparent about content moderation.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) reportedly worked on a similar proposal and circulated a memo to members of the House Energy and Commerce committee in March 2021 proposing the creation of a separate agency overseeing the technology. “I am in the process of drafting legislation that would finally create an agency to provide fair and comprehensive regulatory oversight of social media companies,” he said in a statement.

State lawmakers across the country are also considering new rules on social media platform moderation processes. Lawmakers in at least 18 states have considered bills that would impose penalties for content moderation based on ideological views, though the details vary by state.

In 2021, a federal judge blocked a similar law in Florida that would prevent social media platforms from banning politicians. Florida’s Stop Social Media Censorship Act was proposed by the state’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis in January 2021 after then-President Donald Trump was banned from social media platforms. — including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram — for cheering on Jan. 6. attack on the United States Capitol.

A federal appeals court upheld the ruling on May 23, finding that parts of the Florida law were “substantially likely” to violate the First Amendment rights of social media companies.

NetChoice has already spent between $60,000 and $80,000 on state-level lobbying in Florida this year alone, more than it spent all year in 2021, when it said it spent between $1 and $10,000 each quarter. Florida state lobbying rules only require companies to estimate quarterly payments within the $10,000 range.

The Florida law remains on hold as the Supreme Court considers similar issues in Texas. The Florida government could ask a full panel of judges to review the decision, appeal to the Supreme Court, or wait to see what happens with Texas.

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