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WASHINGTON — On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee passed the last of six antitrust bills intended to rein in the nation’s largest technology platforms. The markup began Wednesday morning and extended into Thursday afternoon.

The bills predominantly cover Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, the companies subject to a lengthy antitrust subcommittee investigation in the last Congress, though the legislation could cover other large companies worth more than $600 billion.

One of these six bills, the American Choice and Innovation Online Act, imposes a nondiscrimination rule on these covered platforms. It’s an attempt to prevent the biggest platforms from engaging in harmful practices. But as reported out of the Committee, this flat ban could in fact make it difficult or impossible for covered companies to deplatform and remove from their sites any business that traffics in hateful, racist, violent or otherwise harmful content.

Free Press Action Co-CEO and Change the Terms coalition co-founder Jessica González made the following statement:

“While Free Press Action could support many components of the legislation put forth this week, we have major concerns with Section 2 of the American Choice and Innovation Online Act. That nondiscrimination language follows from an understandable urge to prevent anti-competitive practices by the tech giants the bill targets. But it creates a grave danger, too.

“This provision would require the biggest sites to host and amplify hate speech and other harmful content targeting Black and Brown people, LGBTQIA+ communities, women, nonbinary individuals, immigrants, Indigenous people and other populations that often face discrimination.

“The bill does not explicitly address potential abuses like these. But it would allow any business, including hateful ones like Infowars and Parler, to argue that it was treated differently than other ‘similarly situated’ and ‘legitimate’ businesses — terms that the bill doesn’t define. The bill would open the door to such legal games, even if that different treatment was warranted because these businesses spread racist conspiracy theories, fostered voter suppression, legitimized violence or incited insurrection.

“Democratic leaders on the Judiciary Committee have argued that this bill doesn’t interfere with covered platforms’ content-moderation policies. But many Republican lawmakers supporting this approach argue that amplifying these political viewpoints isn’t just an unintended side effect of this language: It’s the whole point. While politicians may disagree on which businesses promote ‘legitimate’ political speech and which ones peddle hate on these platforms, Black and Brown people harmed every day by this content can’t afford to leave this to chance.

“Free Press Action has made the case for new laws and regulations to be applied to big platforms. We’ve also argued that promoting quality local journalism, protecting privacy, defending people’s civil rights, prohibiting data abuses and combating hateful and violent disinformation all require many more tools than antitrust alone.

“Promoting competition is a key element of holding Big Tech accountable to the people, but it doesn’t necessarily start a race to the top to protect people’s data, instead of a race to find new ways to extract and exploit that data. Nor does competition for attention online necessarily start a race to produce more truthful information, instead of more sensationalized clickbait, and more outright racist or misogynistic content.

“This provision in the American Choice and Innovation Online Act takes a big step in the wrong direction when it comes to that last category of ills by potentially outlawing the tools the largest platforms use for removing and reducing the reach of hate speech and harmful content.

“There is a lot to like in other parts of this legislative package, but some work to do to make it better. We look forward to joining in that work as this bill moves forward, to address the harms perpetuated by this free-floating nondiscrimination mandate for hate and disinformation.”

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