Press Releases

Trahan, Obernolte Call on Biden Administration to Establish International Research Center Focused on Online Harms

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Representatives Lori Trahan (D-MA-03) and Jay Obernolte (R-CA-23), members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging the administration to begin negotiations with international allies to create an international research center designed to facilitate global cross-platform research into online harms.

“The last few years have highlighted the importance of independent research to understand the evolving impact of the information environment. Prominent online platforms are constantly making design and policy choices that determine the flow of information, the use of personal data and pace of marketing. These decisions are often opaque,” the lawmakers wrote. “Studies have highlighted social media’s role in promoting self-harm, eating disorders, and sales of drugs to children. While the field of Information Science continues to expand and evolve, significant gaps in the research remain. Challenges with social media data sharing have meant that researchers are often limited to data they can scrape or obtain through open-source tools. These processes can be cumbersome, privacy invasive and often do not include key information”

Over the past two years, lawmakers of both parties have introduced legislation to establish clear standards for independent researcher access to social media companies’ data. While Congress considers those bills, America’s allies have moved forward with proposals, including the European Union’s Digital Services Act, which requires that platforms share data with researchers looking to identify and understand systemic risks. The establishment of an international research center will provide clarity for companies and researchers looking to understand and operate under the varying requirements under consideration in different nations.

“Initiating negotiations to create an independent international research center to facilitate cross platform research on the information environment shows recognition of the internet’s nearly borderless nature in which U.S. innovation has thrived,” the lawmakers continued. “Such a research center could increase the ease of data sharing that is complete, respects the data rights of online consumers around the globe regardless of nationality, and enables thoughtful understanding of the design and algorithms that have changed the nature of communication.”

Should the administration choose to establish the international research center, Trahan and Obernolte encouraged consultation with researchers, companies, civil society organizations, technologists, and representatives from international organizations that have undertaken similar steps. The lawmakers also recommended that the priorities of the research center include:

  • To enable international collaboration to better understand and measure the impacts of content moderation decisions, product design choices, and algorithms of online platforms on society including considerations for child and youth development;
  • To conduct research projects with a focus on the global information environment that require information from or about multiple online platforms and multi-year time horizons;
  • To facilitate secure information sharing between online platforms and researchers, including overseeing best practices regarding what types of information from an online platform should be made available, and under what circumstances; and
  • Ensure access to the information by the research center does not infringe upon reasonable expectations of personal privacy of users of online platforms or of other individuals; and ensure that information is made available to the research center consistent with any applicable privacy and data security laws of member countries. 

A copy of the letter sent today can be accessed by clicking HERE.