The top executives at the largest U.S. social media and tech firms came to the U.S. Senate floor to answer questions about political bias and censorship practices at their companies.
The Push To Remove Protections
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai received subpoenas to appear in front of the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday. Republicans peppered the group with questions about their controversial content policies. These policies, some say, unfairly target conservatives.
Republicans are pushing to remove liability protection for tech and social media firms. This protection currently exists under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The law protects companies from receiving lawsuits over user-generated content. However, conservatives say these groups are weaponizing this liability shield to silence right-leaning individuals and groups.
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Social Media Sites Questioned
Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) quickly zoned in on Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. He asked the silicon valley heavyweight about the company’s decision to label President Trump’s tweets as misleading while not applying the same standard across the platform. “I just don’t understand how Twitter can claim to want a world of less hate and misinformation while you simultaneously let the kind of content that the ayatollah has tweeted out to flourish,” he said, referring to posts from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denying the holocaust and threatening Israel.
“We have a policy against misinformation in three categories, which are manipulated media; public health, specifically COVID; and civic integrity, election interference and voter suppression. That is all we have a policy on for misleading information. We do not have a policy or enforcement for any other types of misleading information you mentioned,” said Dorsey.
“With your answers on the ayatollah and others, I just don’t understand how Twitter can claim to want a world of less hate and misinformation while you simultaneously let the kind of content that the ayatollah has tweeted out flourish on the platform, including from other world leaders,” Gardner told Dorsey. “It’s no wonder that Americans are worried about politically motivated content moderation at Twitter.”
“I don’t like the idea of a group of unelected elites in San Francisco or Silicon Valley deciding whether my speech is permissible on their platforms,” said Gardner.
Surprisingly, the Democratic positions appeared to be that these so-called neutral content moderators aren’t doing enough to censor speech on their platforms. “The issue is not that these companies before us today are taking too many posts down. The issue is that they are leaving too many dangerous posts up,” said Senator Ed Markey (D-MA.)
On The Exposé
Dorsey got the lion’s share of tough questions because of Twitter’s recent actions to silence a blockbuster exposé from The New York Post about a treasure trove of emails detailing potentially corrupt dealings from Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his family. However, the other CEOs also got their share of tough questions.
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) questioned Zuckerberg over the idea that Facebook promotes divisiveness on its platform. She accused the platform of promoting discord because “more divisiveness, more time on the platform—more time on the platform, the company makes more money.”
Zuckerberg also said most of Facebook’s content is positive and largely includes updates on family events and other innocent happenings.
However, Zuckerberg interestingly noted that he is open to changing Section 230. “I believe Congress should update the law to make sure it’s working as intended,” said the Facebook CEO. “When a private company is making these calls, we need a more accountable process that people feel is legitimate, and that gives platforms certainty,” he also mentioned.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) perhaps went at the group the hardest. He went as far as calling Twitter a “Democratic super PAC” for its decision to block The Post article. “Who the hell elected you and put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report?” Cruz demanded.
Dorsey gave a typically arrogant Silicon Valley tech elite response. “I hear the concerns and acknowledge them,” he said.