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Sen. Mike Lee pushes bill to punish Facebook, Twitter if they show anti-conservative bias

The bill follows up on Lee’s assertion that social media unfairly censors conservative commenters, including him.

(Drew Angerer | AP file photo) In this Oct. 13, 2020, file photo, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, questions Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett during her confirmation hearing. Tuesday he introduced a bill aiming to punish social media companies like Facebook and Twitter if they break pledges of political neutrality. Lee has accused the social media companies of anti-conservative bias.

After months of blasting social media giants like Facebook and Twitter for what he sees as bias against conservatives, Utah Sen. Mike Lee introduced Tuesday legislation that would make it a violation of federal law for them to break any promises of political neutrality.

He called it the PROMISE Act, or the Promoting Responsibility Over Moderation In the Social Media Environment Act. It has little chance of passage before Congress adjourns for the year but possibly gives an early signal of his intent to push it again next year.

“The billionaires who own our nation’s Big Tech companies have every right to be partisan political actors,” Lee said. “What they don’t have a right to do is make promises to consumers that they will provide unbiased platforms and then discriminate against conservatives on those same platforms.”

He has complained repeatedly in recent months that when those companies tag or remove what they say are questionable posts, they generally target just conservatives, Republicans and pro-life groups — not liberals.

In a hearing last month, he complained that they even had targeted him.

“I recently posted something about the election on Facebook,” he said. “My Facebook post was almost immediately tagged with the following: ‘Election officials say that voter fraud, which is historically rare, has not affected the outcome in this election. … Mail-in voting was conducted in accordance with state voting rules.”

Lee’s office said it did not have the wording of that post. But among Lee’s posts still on Facebook at the time was one that said, after all major news organizations called the election for Joe Biden, that candidates have the right to exhaust all legal remedies with challenges or recounts, and Lee would work with “whichever candidate emerges as the winner.”

Lee, like a majority of Republicans in Congress, has still refused to acknowledge Democrat Joe Biden as president-elect. That’s in contrast to Utah’s other senator, Mitt Romney, who soon after the election congratulated biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

Lee complained that the Facebook tag on his post “sounds a whole lot more like state-run media announcing the party line than a neutral company as it purports to be.”

He added, “This kind of editorializing insulates people from the truth, and it insinuates that anyone concerned about voter fraud must be crazy. It also states it as if it were an irrefutable, neutral objective fact.”

No evidence of widespread voter fraud has emerged post-election and the legal team of President Donald Trump has racked up court losses in all of the states where he has filed challenges.

The new bill would require social media companies with content moderation policies to explain their standards, processes and policies. That could include explanations of what categories of information are not permitted or are subject to moderation; the process used to moderate content; and how or whether users would be notified when their content is modified.

It would require such companies not to make a “deceptive policy statement” about their moderation policies.

It would make violation of that a violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act that bans unfair or deceptive acts and practices.

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