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Pallone: 'Net Platforms Are Policing Content

A high-profile Democrat took aim at Web content platforms Wednesday in a House hearing on how those platforms--social media, search--use complex algorithms to help shape how content--news, advertising--gets to consumers.

In his opening statement for the Joint Communications and Digital Commerce Subcommittee hearing, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, said that the national dialog is being "curated" by web platforms "policing content," and that they have consolidated to a few key players.

The hearing also dealt with online privacy and security, and included much talk about net neutrality in advance of the FCC's planned Dec. 14 vote top reverse the Title II classification of ISPs and eliminate most of the net neutrality rules--against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization.

"The aim of internet platforms is monetizing web traffic, not public policy. Algorithms created for the purpose of increasing ad clicks is what ends up shaping what we see online and too often, this content is not an accurate reflection of the real world.  Structural flaws built into the algorithms used to sort online content may result in racial and other bias in our news feeds. As diverse voices are squeezed out, bias increases even further," he said. "This is simply not acceptable."

But while Pallone was sounding a warning about Web sites that appeared to echo at least some of what FCC chairman Ajit Pai had talked about in a speech the day before, Pallone also saw Pai's rollback of Title II net neutrality regs as part of the problem.

Related: Survey Says: Majority Support Net Neutrality Regs

"Even now, as we hold a hearing to talk about mitigating bias on the internet, FCC chairman Pai is planning to introduce more bias into the system," he said. "The net neutrality rules that he plans to destroy are the protections that ensure that we, the people, can decide for ourselves what we do and say online. Chairman Pai’s plan will fundamentally change the free and open internet as we know it.

Independent voices—those outside the mainstream—may be most at risk simply because they don’t have an affiliation with the companies that run the internet.

Other Democrats also invoked the Title II rollback as a threat to the open internet and the free flow of ideas. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), ranking member of the Digital Commerce Subcommittee used the occasion to hammer the FCC over media ownership deregulation and the Sinclair-Tribune deal as well. Pallone also registered his concern with that deal.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.