The Senate Commerce Committee, chaired by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Ala., questioned Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jack Dorsey of Twitter, and Sundar Pichai of Google on Wednesday concerning possible revisions of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. That’s the law that shields digital platforms from liability for content posted by third parties.
Republicans on the committee came ready for battle and confronted the three social media giant bosses on the subject of anti-conservative bias and influencing the election.
For example, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, wanted answers from Twitter’s Dorsey on the recent banning of a New York Post story on Hunter Biden. “Mr. Dorsey, who the hell elected you and put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report and what the American people are allowed to hear,” Cruz asked.
Dorsey responded, “We realize we need to earn trust more,” before going on to explain that the action Twitter took was in error, and had been corrected and Twitter’s policies that led to the banning were revised. The New York Post later disputed Dorsey’s testimony that the ban on its article had been lifted.
Several Republicans, including Sen. Corey Gardner, R-Colo., asked Dorsey why Ayatollah Ali Khomeini of Iran could tweet a call for armed resistance against Israel, while President’s Trump’s tweets about election issues carried a Twitter “warning label.” Dorsey responded that Twitter labels many foreign leaders’ tweets, not just President Trump’s.
Republicans’ overall concern expressed at the hearing was that Section 230 serves to protect what they called biased moderation by the Big Tech companies which favored liberal messages over conservative ones. While the social media executives all supported Section 230, they appeared willing to improve their moderating policies and seemed open to some adjustments to the language of Section 230. All three denied any intentional bias against conservatives and testified that they had attached “misinformation” labels and other cautions to posts from liberals, including, according to Dorsey, tweets from the Biden campaign as well as a couple Democrats in the House of Representatives.
Democrats on the committee were also upset at Big Tech, but for a different reason. They wanted to see more moderating and banning of speech they deemed to be objectionable.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., for example, pressed Mark Zuckerberg for allowing militant groups to use Facebook’s “group” feature to organize for violent purposes. Zuckerberg assured her that steps had been taken to block that feature in such cases and that searches for such groups would point in another direction, such as groups organized around leaving such organizations.
Others, such as Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, accused Republicans of scheduling the hearing to intimidate the social media giants and thereby impact the election.
“I have plenty of questions for the witness on Section 230, on antitrust, on privacy, on anti-Semitism, on their relationship with journalism, but we have to call this hearing what it is: It’s a sham. And so for the first time in eight years in the United States Senate, I’m not going to use my time to ask any questions because this is nonsense, and it’s not going to work this time,” he said.
Back in May, President Trump issued an executive order calling for new regulations under Section 230 to address what he called the social media companies’ “stretching” of that law to act as editors and publishers by censoring free speech – all without fear of penalty or retribution.
In response to the president’s executive order, the U.S. Department of Justice has released the draft of a bill to amend Section 230 that “recalibrates” Section 230 immunity,” aiming to “incentivize online platforms to better address criminal content on their services and to be more transparent and accountable when removing lawful speech.”
Democrats have introduced a bill to amend Section 230 to create liability for large media platforms whose algorithms facilitate civil rights violations. The bill was prompted by the Kenosha, Wisconsin killings by a young man from a nearby Illinois town who was recruited to come to Kenosha on Facebook.
Photo from POOL/REUTERS
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