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7:35 AM / Sunday January 29, 2023

8 Apr 2022

The American Innovation and Choice Online Act, and how it affects us

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April 8, 2022 Category: Commentary Posted by:
Archbishop Mary Floyd Palmer

By Archbishop Mary Floyd Palmer

Matthew 18:20 teaches us, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” And while God is omnipresent, the COVID-19 shutdowns forced churches to find new ways to continue our mission to minister to the communities we serve. Platforms like YouTube and Facebook allowed us to broadcast live services. FaceTime and Zoom allowed us to continue to minister to those we could not see in person.  

Congress is, rightly, looking at ways to regulate technology platforms. These companies have become a part of daily life for most Americans and sensible regulations that protect consumers make sense, so long as they are the right regulations that achieve those goals without limiting access to the digital tools that help us every day. Unfortunately, it seems like some are rushing to advance a bill called “American Innovation and Choice Online Act,” (S.2992/HR 3816) that will endanger many aspects of the internet that we enjoy and rely upon. 

These bills would make significant changes to major tech platforms and prevent them from offering popular services that people today receive for free or low cost while also restricting their ability to provide information and opportunity tools within their services.  For example, the bill would prohibit tech platforms from “favoring their own products or services that ban the pre-installation of iMessage and FaceTime on iPhones; and ban Google from including Google Maps in its search results.  

These preinstalled applications make technology more accessible, especially for seniors who may not have the same technical skills as younger generations. Should these bills pass, the impact would be far reaching. Free shipping with Amazon Prime could disappear and apps like Google Maps, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, LinkedIn, iMessage, and FaceTime will be harder and, very likely, more expensive to access.

In addition, this would make it more difficult to combat harmful speech and misinformation across online platforms. By requiring major platforms not to discriminate among “similarly situated business users,” the bill would prevent Facebook or YouTube from removing or downranking hate speech, conspiracy theorists, or insurrectionist speech (such as Alex Jones’ Infowars or Parle) because doing so would “discriminate” against their apps.

With more and more candidates on the GOP side still embracing the ‘Big Lie’ about the 2020 election, and Republican legislatures passing bills to make it more difficult for people – particularly people of color – to exercise their right to vote, we need policies that will promote accurate voting information.  Unfortunately, under these bills, Google and Facebook could be prohibited from displaying their “how to vote” and polling place locator tools on the Google home page or top of the Facebook news feed.  

Technology, just like more established sectors, must have good regulations for the benefit of all Americans.  However, we should not limit access to the tools that have helped us during the pandemic, nor should we implement policies that restrict access or make services more expensive.  I hope Congress rethinks this approach.  

Archbishop Mary Floyd Palmer, D.Min, is the president and presiding prelate of the Philadelphia Council of Clergy, Inc., founder of Bishop Mary Ministries and the Community Healing Project 4All, and is the host of the Bishop Mary Show on WWDB-Talk 860AM.

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