SEN. MARCO RUBIO: TikTok And Big Tech Are Both Clearly Dangerous. It’s Time We Address Them

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Sen. Marco Rubio Marco Rubio is a Republican U.S. senator from Florida.
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Most Americans who oppose the bill to separate TikTok from Chinese control do so for one of two reasons: One, they don’t think TikTok is a threat. Two, they fear that focusing on TikTok will let American Big Tech companies — Amazon, Google, Meta, etc. — off the hook. 

The first concern has been discussed at length. The Chinese Communist Party has both the ability and the authority to access Americans’ data and manipulate their user feeds through TikTok. In fact, Beijing has already used TikTok to spy on American journalists, steal Americans’ private financial information and potentially interfere in our political process. 

The second concern, however, is understandable. Big Tech has a lot to answer for, from abusing our personal data and suppressing conservative viewpoints to harming millions of children’s mental health. Americans are right to demand Congress hold these companies accountable, regardless of their connection to an adversarial regime.

For years, the federal government ignored the havoc Big Tech wreaked on our communities and gave companies a pass for their errors out of fear that regulations and guardrails would stifle innovation. Specifically, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 shields tech firms from lawsuits over the activities of third-party users on their products. In the law’s eyes, these products are mere platforms for free speech.

This made sense when the internet was an emerging sector and an application was little more than a digital messaging board or filing cabinet. It makes virtually no sense today, when tech companies use advanced algorithms and artificial intelligence to proactively curate users’ feeds, guide their choices and even censor their opinions.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen Amazon refuse to sell literature that criticizes left-wing gender ideology. We’ve seen Twitter block a federal lawmaker’s pro-life rhetoric. We’ve seen Facebook hide stories about Hunter Biden’s laptop in the lead-up to a national election. We’ve seen YouTube shut down skepticism of the COVID-19 vaccine. And we’ve learned that Google reportedly relies on employee-created blacklists to prevent users from accessing conservative websites (by changing search results or removing certain sites entirely).

Moreover, all these companies curate what you see through algorithms informed by your behavior and designed to keep you on their platforms as long as possible. The idea that Big Tech is a mere platform for free speech may have held water in the 1990s, but it’s laughable in 2024. Big Tech acts as publisher, censor and content creator all in one.

And then there’s social media’s impact on our kids. We no longer have any reason to doubt that app algorithms are responsible for the epidemic of addiction, anxiety and insecurity among the youngest generation of Americans. To quote psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who’s compiled more than 80 scientific studies on the subject, “our children are on a conveyor belt, and a lot of them are getting shredded.”

Social media companies themselves are well aware of the problem. Facebook’s own research shows Instagram “make[s] body image issues worse for one in three girls,” “increases [their] rate of anxiety and depression” and can inspire suicidal ideation. Nevertheless, these firms continue to design their algorithms to attract and retain young users for profit.

This behavior is clearly predatory, unethical and unjust, so why does the United States government seem dead-set on shielding it? It’s not as if there’s a constitutional right for companies to create sophisticated algorithms serving kids and teenagers highly addictive and damaging content. And while Big Tech is certainly innovative, its innovations in this space are clearly making our country weaker and sicker, not stronger.

In short, it’s time for us to hold Big Tech accountable by reforming Section 230. My DISCOURSE Act would do just that. By eliminating legal protections for market-dominant tech firms that engage in censorship or use algorithms to manipulate their users’ choices, it would enable Americans to sue such firms for provable harm. The sooner this bill becomes law, the sooner we can restore free speech and protect our kids.

TikTok shouldn’t be off the hook, though. After all, TikTok exhibits all the pathologies of American Big Tech, but to an even greater degree. It is a “strong possibility” that the app suppresses viewpoints that threaten the Chinese Communist Party at a rate that makes Instagram’s censorship look half-hearted. And in terms of its ability to addict young people, Haidt testifies that “TikTok is much more powerful than anything else out there.”

TikTok’s ownership by ByteDance, a company controlled by the Chinese regime, is why the federal government should have prevented ByteDance’s acquisition back in 2019. And it’s why the app requires special treatment by Congress right now. This is a good place to start reining in Big Tech.

But make no mistake: I won’t give any company a free pass to harm Americans, no matter its country of origin.

Marco Rubio represents the state of Florida in the United States Senate.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.