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Minnesota lawmakers need to pump the brakes before they break the internet

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Last year, lawmakers in dozens of states introduced bills to restrict companies from enforcing their terms of service related to the removal of content on their platforms. This was an impulse reaction by conservative lawmakers seeking to punish digital services for taking action against former President Trump’s accounts for violations of terms of use on January 6th. Opponents cautioned that these bills would make it more difficult for companies to remove inappropriate, misleading, or even dangerous information, and that they violated platforms’ First Amendment rights by forcing them to host all user-generated content, regardless of what risks that content presented. Despite warnings, policymakers in Florida and Texas proceeded to pass legislation and both states are now wasting taxpayer dollars fighting — and losing — legal battles over the constitutionality of bills. 

This year, a similar situation is playing out in Minnesota, where, in an effort to protect children online, lawmakers are pressing forward with legislation that they have been warned might in fact do just the opposite. A bi-partisan sponsored bill to prohibit the application of algorithms used to select which content to share with users under 18 is quickly making its way through the Minnesota legislature. While nearly all Americans can agree that it is absolutely critical for companies to take additional steps to protect youth online, the state’s approach is shortsighted in that it aims to restrict companies from using the very tools they rely on to keep their users safe. 

As state lawmakers introduce proposals to crack down on so-called “big tech,” behind the scenes leading digital services are investing millions of dollars each year into the ongoing research, development, and deployment of tools to keep their users out of harm’s way. For example, Twitter recently announced plans to expand its “Safety Mode” feature, which will offer users improved mechanisms to combat harassment and harmful content. Last month, Instagram launched its “Family Center,” a new tool to provide parents with more supervision and control over their childrens’ accounts. Snap just announced new policies to protect users from receiving anonymous messages and implemented age-gating restrictions to protect young users. All of these services are made possible by the effective use of algorithms. 

If there was any doubt prior to the pandemic, there can be no question now that the Internet is fundamental to the modern economy. It’s crucial that digital services continue to devote resources toward developing mechanisms to protect vulnerable users. Perhaps more importantly, the tools that tech companies create today will pioneer technology and know-how for firms of the future. If this bill were enacted, it stands not only to strip away the mechanisms that digital services currently use to keep users safe, but to discourage leading technology firms from investing in ongoing research to combat emerging online threats in the years to come. 

As we’ve learned from Florida and Texas, acting on an impulse is not the right answer and will likely lead to unintended consequences. It’s time for state legislators to put a pause on knee-jerk legislation and work alongside stakeholders and industry experts to identify practical solutions to protect users online.


Some, if not all of society’s most useful innovations are the byproduct of competition. In fact, although it may sound counterintuitive, innovation often flourishes when an incumbent is threatened by a new entrant because the threat of losing users to the competition drives product improvement. The Internet and the products and companies it has enabled are no exception; companies need to constantly stay on their toes, as the next startup is ready to knock them down with a better product.