The Lawfare Podcast: Free the Data!

By Jen Patja Howell
Thursday, December 16, 2021, 5:01 AM

On this show, we’ve discussed no end of proposals for how to regulate online platforms. But there’s something many of those proposals are missing: data about how the platforms actually work. Now, there’s legislation in Congress that aims to change that. The Platform Accountability and Transparency Act, sponsored by Senators Chris Coons, Rob Portman and Amy Klobuchar, would create a process through which academic researchers could gain access to information about the operation of these platforms—peering under the hood to see what’s actually happening in our online ecosystems, and perhaps how they could be improved. 

This week on Arbiters of Truth, our series on the online information ecosystem, Evelyn Douek and Quinta Jurecic spoke with the man who drafted the original version of this legislation—Nate Persily, the James B. McClatchy Professor of Law at Stanford Law School. He’s been hard at work on the draft bill, which he finally published this October. And he collaborated with Coons, Portman and Klobuchar to work his ideas into the Platform Accountability and Transparency Act. They talked about how Nate’s proposal would work, why researcher access to data is so important and what the prospects are for lasting reforms like this out of Congress.