Press Releases

Trahan Unveils Comprehensive Online Transparency Legislation

LOWELL, MA – Today, Congresswoman Lori Trahan (MA-03), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, unveiled the Digital Services Oversight and Safety Act (DSOSA), comprehensive transparency legislation to establish a Bureau of Digital Services Oversight and Safety at the Federal Trade Commission that would have the authority and resources necessary to hold powerful online companies accountable for the promises they make to users, parents, advertisers, and enforcers.

“The need for federal action to rein in the dominance and abuses of large online companies is obvious. Congress has failed to keep up with the digital marketplace, and users are paying the price,” said Congresswoman Trahan. “The Digital Services Oversight and Safety Act will be a shot of expertise in the arms of enforcers and legislators alike, helping to inform comprehensive and long overdue updates to the laws that govern the internet. Comprehensive transparency and product safety oversight are necessary complements to ongoing efforts to reform antitrust and data protection laws, and this new Bureau will be key to getting us there.”

While almost every other consumer product has safety standards, online platforms have evolved at warp speed with minimal federal oversight. The result has been rampant abuses that harm consumers and are often met with little to no consequences. What’s become clearer than ever is that federal agencies and lawmakers lack the capacity necessary to truly understand these products’ safety processes and design features, which limits their ability to create clear content-neutral “seat belt” or “speed bump” regulations.

DSOSA changes that by creating the Bureau of Digital Services Oversight and Safety tasked with investigating systemic risks on online platforms and issuing transparency requirements and guidance on content neutral safety processes and design features. Housed within the FTC, the Bureau would employ at least 500 employees, including technologists, constitutional lawyers, and interdisciplinary experts like child development specialists and statisticians with the expertise needed to equip federal agencies and lawmakers with evidence-based research that informs enforcement actions and legislative proposals. Under this legislation, the Bureau would issue and enforce comprehensive transparency and accessibility requirements, including:

  • Mandating a series of transparency, risk assessment, and risk mitigation reports – depending on companies’ size and practices – all aimed at better informing enforcers, researchers, and users about platforms’ policies.
  • Creating an Office of Independent Research Facilitation tasked with standing up and overseeing a system through which certified researchers can study the impacts of covered platforms and their content moderation practices, product design decisions, and algorithms.
  • Publishing annual reports on the systemic risks present in the ecosystem of large covered platforms and the effectiveness of existing mitigation methods.
  • Requiring that platforms have a functioning, well-resourced internal complaint, and appeal process for individuals who feel their content or accounts has been wrongfully taken down.
  • Providing voluntary guidance for platforms on content-neutral trust and safety processes, as well as age and audience-specific product design features.
  • Empowering the creation of a digital advertisement library similar to Trahan’s Social Media DATA Act.
  • Requiring that platforms maintain publicly accessible community standards with machine readable XML tags that facilitate independent research.
  • Providing whistleblower protections to any employee at a hosting service who provides evidence that platforms have broken the law under the rules and regulations of this Act.

Original cosponsors of DSOSA, which is set to be featured in an Energy and Commerce Committee legislative hearing next week, include Representatives Adam Schiff (CA-28) and Sean Casten (IL-06).

“Social media platforms have reshaped everything from the way we communicate with family and friends to how we consume the news, participate in political discourse, and disseminate important information on which we rely. And as the digital landscape continues to evolve and expand, the public should have transparency about how technology platforms function and whether there are sufficient guardrails in place,” said Congressman Schiff. “This legislation will take the long-overdue step of giving federal regulators insight into how these companies operate, so they can issue evidence-based guidance and hold them accountable.”

“Thanks to courageous whistleblowers like Francis Haugen, we now know that Facebook and other social media companies’ promises to protect users’ safety should never have been trusted,” said Congressman Casten. “But even as the American people suffer the consequences of Zuckerberg’s ‘company over country’ mantra – from surging suicide risk for teenage girls to an infodemic where the viral spread of disinformation continues to jeopardize public health, enable domestic terrorist recruiting, and thwart efforts to vaccinate – the federal government still lacks the power to hold these platforms accountable. The Digital Services Oversight and Safety Act (DSOSA) will change that by instituting a comprehensive framework for transparency, accountability, and enforcement to finally bring social media platforms’ broken promises and blackbox practices to light.”

DSOSA is supported by a wide range of outside groups.

A fact sheet on the bill can be accessed HERE.

A section-by-section summary can be accessed HERE.

The text of the bill as introduced can be accessed HERE.