On May 1, Reps. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.) and Jay Obernolte (R-Calif.) sent a letter asking the Biden administration to “initiate a multilateral negotiation to establish an international research center to facilitate cross platform research on the information environment.” The lawmakers asked the administration to consult with key stakeholders from partnered and allied nations to “outline the purposes, functions, and related administrative provisions of the research center” including “to facilitate secure information sharing between online platforms and researchers” and to “ensure access to the information by the research center does not infringe upon reasonable expectations of personal privacy of users of online platforms.”
The lawmakers are pushing the administration to address a limitation present in existing legislative proposals that facilitate researcher access to social media data. For example, bills such as the Digital Services Oversight and Safety Act and the Platform Accountability and Transparency Act task the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) with determining the confines of what data must be made available and the level of data protection required. The global nature of the information environment means that these proposals are limited by the FTC’s jurisdiction, described as protecting against “deceptive and anticompetitive business practices that affect U.S. consumers,” which presumably does not include mandating access to personal information belonging to consumers outside of the United States. But there are research questions critical to lawmakers that span beyond the jurisdiction that covers U.S. consumers, such as: How is Russian propaganda spreading through Ukraine? What are the most effective counternarratives? How does the speed at which a platform removes illegal content affect the spread of that information across countries and media outlets?
The op-ed can be found on Lawfare's website.