Transparency rules for foreign social media platforms now 1 vote from Senate floor

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A bill designed to rein in misinformation and propaganda on foreign-owned social media platforms is now one step from a Senate floor vote after clearing its penultimate committee stop.

The measure (SB 1448), titled the “Transparency in Social Media Act,” advanced through the Senate Appropriations Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice by a unanimous vote. It would require TikTok, WeChat and other applications created and maintained in hostile countries to reveal how they are influencing Americans and whom they’re targeting.

“Senate Bill 1448 creates transparency and an equal playing field with requirements for foreign adversary-owned entities,” said Sarasota Republican Sen. Joe Gruters, the bill’s sponsor. “This bill will address the misinformation and blatant propaganda from foreign adversaries to influence users of all ages while protecting their privacy.”

If approved, the bill would require social media platforms operating in Florida from six federally recognized foreign adversaries — China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela — to publicly disclose how they curate and sort their content.

The companies would have to share factors that influence content ranking and visibility, measures each platform takes to address misinformation and harmful content, and the process of personalization and content targeting.

The bill would also require each foreign-adversary-owned company to make its source code publicly available through an open-source license.

Moreover, each company would have to implement a verification system for every user and organization that purchases political or social advertisements.

Foreign companies that run afoul of the rules after they go into effect July 1 would be liable for fines of up to $10,000 per violation. The Department of Legal Affairs, under Attorney General Ashley Moody, would be responsible for monitoring the companies for compliance and holding them accountable.

Gruters noted the strictures in his bill are less stringent than the rules American social media operators must abide by in unfriendly nations.

“At the end of the day, this is a lot less than what they require of American-owned companies that operate in their (territories),” he said Tuesday. “If you’re an American company (and) do business in some of those countries, they require the entire source code. We’re not requesting that. All we’re requesting is the algorithm be presented.”

A House companion bill (HB 1541) by Brevard County Republican Rep. Randy Fine is also one committee stop from a full chamber vote. It differs slightly from its Senate analog by defining a foreign-adversary-owned company as being more than 15% owned or controlled by nations, governments or corporations domiciled, incorporated or otherwise holding residence in those adversarial countries.

The legislation comes amid a wave of state measures meant to crack down on foreign influence on Sunshine State residents in recent years. One under court appeal prohibits governmental entities from contracting with “countries of concern,” including China, for the purchase of agricultural land. Another law approved last year limits state college and university personnel from accepting gifts from or participating in partnerships with those countries. Florida has also banned TikTok on state-issued mobile devices.

Lawmakers this year also are considering bills to block the use of traffic cameras with Chinese parts, prohibit charitable donations from “America’s enemies” and call on U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to formally condemn the Chinese Communist Party and their “emerging partnership” with Cuba to expand espionage and military capabilities on the island, among other measures.

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