Facebookâs Mark Zuckerberg, Twitterâs Jack Dorsey and Googleâs Sundar Pichai came under attack for anti-conservative bias during fiery Senate hearing.
The CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google are facing a grilling by GOP senators making unfounded allegations that the tech giants show anti-conservative bias. Their focus includes Section 230, a law relating to unfettered internet speech. (Oct. 28)
Senate Republicans on WednesdayÂ accused leaders of the nationâs top internet companies of politically motivated bias and suppression, and warned them of upcoming challenges to decades-old legal protections that shield themÂ from liability for what users post on their platforms.
âThe time has come for that free pass to end,â Sen. Roger Wicker, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said in his opening remarks during theÂ hearing on Capitol Hill.
Facebookâs Mark Zuckerberg, Twitterâs Jack Dorsey and Googleâs Sundar Pichai defended their companies against blistering criticism from Republican lawmakers over the moderation of conservativesâ posts including President Trump before the Senate Commerce Committee. Republicans presented no evidence of systematic bias or censorship.
The highly partisan hearing six days before the election was fueled by right-wing outrage over Facebook and Twitter earlier this month limiting the spread of an article by the New York Post about the Democratic presidential nominee Joe Bidenâs son Hunter, which cited unverified emails reportedly uncovered by allies of President Trump.Â
Zuckerberg said Facebook throttled the story while it was being fact-checked after warnings from the FBI to be on “heightened alert” about “hack and leak operations” in the final days before the 2020 election.
âWho 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,â Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, challenged Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
Conservatives have complained for years that social media companies systematically silence the political speech of right-leaning users despite consistent evidence that conservative voices and viewpoints dominate the conversation on these platforms.
Tech leaders denied any partisanship, saying their policies strike a balance between allowing users to freely express themselves and keeping hate, abuse and misinformation off their platforms.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears on a screen as he speaks remotely during a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, in Washington. The committee summoned the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google to testify. (Photo: Michael Reynolds, AP)
With the presidential election days away, social media companies are on high alert for misinformation that could sway voters or tip the election and are increasingly taking aggressive action against posts that make false claims about the COVID-19 pandemic or undermine faith in the electoral process, including putting fact-check labels on some of Trumpâs attacks on voting by mail.
âFrankly I am appalled that my Republican colleagues are holding this hearing literally days before an election when they seem to want to bully and browbeat the platforms here to try to tilt them toward President Trumpâs favor,â Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said.Â
Democrats focused their questions on what steps internet platforms are taking to protect users from election interference and misinformation, hate speech and extremism. They have criticized social media companies for failing to police dangerous content that can lead to the rise of hate movements or violence.
âThe tech companies here today need to take more action, not less, to combat misinformation including misinformation on the election, misinformation on the COVID-19 pandemic and misinformation and posts meant to incite violence. That should include misinformation spread by President Trump on their platforms,â Senator Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, said.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testifies remotely during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing with Big Tech companies on Wednesday. The committee is discussing reforming Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. (Photo: Pool, Getty Images)
The subject of Wednesdayâs hearing was Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which shields internet companies from liability for much of the content users post on their platforms and grants wide latitude in what content they remove.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are threatening to narrow the protections. The political right says companies remove too much content while the political left contends they donât remove enough.
A number of bills to hold Facebook, Google and Twitter legally accountable for how they moderate content are circulating in Congress. Earlier this year, Trump signed an executive order challenging Section 230. Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, recently announced plans to reexamine the legal protections.
In prepared testimony for Wednesday’s hearing, Zuckerberg called Section 230 a “foundational law” that allows Facebook’s billions of users to freely express themselves and allows Facebook to keep users safe from harmful content.
“Without Section 230, platforms could potentially be held liable for everything people say,” Zuckerberg said. “Platforms likely would censor more content to avoid legal risk.”
But he also pledged that Facebook would work with lawmakers to reform the law. The growing debate about Section 230 âshows that people of all political persuasions are unhappy with the status quo,” he said.
âPeople want to know that companies are taking responsibility for combating harmful content â especially illegal activity â on their platforms. They want to know that when platforms remove content, they are doing so fairly and transparently. And they want to make sure that platforms are held accountable,â Zuckerberg said.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai testifies remotely during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing Wednesday on Capitol Hill. (Photo: Pool, Getty Images)
“Since our founding, we have been deeply committed to the freedom of expression. We also feel a responsibility to protect people who use our products from harmful content and to be transparent about how we do that,” his prepared testimony reads. “Let me be clear: We approach our work without political bias, full stop.”
In his prepared testimony, Dorsey warned that “eroding Section 230 could collapse how we communicate on the internet.” He added: “As you consider next steps, we urge your thoughtfulness and restraint when it comes to broad regulatory solutions to address content moderation issues.”
Jeff Kosseff, an assistant professor of cybersecurity law in the United States Naval Academyâs Cyber Science Department and author of âThe Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet,â said it will be difficult for Congress to reach consensus on how to alter Section 230.
âYou have two competing views as to what platforms should be doing,â he said. âItâs hard to imagine what would satisfy everyone who is upset with the tech companies.â
United States Senate, Jack Dorsey, Twitter, Mark Zuckerberg, Section 230, Sundar Pichai, Facebook
World news – US – ‘Who the hell elected you?’ Tech CEOs accused of bias against Trump and conservatives days before election