Section 230 senate hearing with Facebook, Google, Twitter


The hearing comes less than a week before the US election and as social media companies have been bracing for an onslaught of misinformation and disinformation. In recent days, Facebook and Twitter have both taken action to slow the spread of some content, bringing about allegations of bias, censorship and even election interference.

In a video released ahead of the hearing, the Senate Commerce Committee highlighted what it says are examples of social platforms’ actions against conservative accounts, such as Twitter labeling a tweet from Fox News personality Tucker Carlson, saying the media he shared included “potentially sensitive content.”
Independent studies of social media have found little credible evidence to suggest that the technology is biased against right-wing viewpoints, but the executives clearly expect to be pressed on the matter.

“We ensure that all decisions are made without using political viewpoints, party affiliation, or political ideology, whether related to automatically ranking content on our service or how we develop or enforce the Twitter Rules,” CEO Jack Dorsey said in prepared remarks viewed by CNN Business. “Our Twitter Rules are not based on ideology or a particular set of beliefs. We believe strongly in being impartial, and we strive to enforce our Twitter Rules fairly.”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the company approaches its work without political bias, “full stop.”

“To do otherwise would be contrary to both our business interests and our mission, which compels us to make information accessible to every type of person, no matter where they live or what they believe,” Pichai said in prepared remarks.

At the heart of the hearing is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The companies have invoked the federal law in one court case after another to dismiss potentially costly lawsuits over messages, videos and other content created by users.

Under Section 230, “interactive computer services” are considered legally separate from the users who generate their content. They can’t be said to publish or “speak” the words of their users. In practice, courts have repeatedly accepted Section 230 as a defense against claims of defamation, negligence and other allegations.

All three CEOs in their prepared remarks tried to hammer home the importance of Section 230 to their businesses, and that diminishing it would result in more content takedowns.

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“Section 230 is the internet’s most important law for free speech and safety,” Dorsey said. “Eroding the foundation of Section 230 could collapse how we communicate on the Internet, leaving only a small number of giant and well-funded technology companies.”

While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s remarks highlight the importance of Section 230, he also said Congress should “update the law to make sure it’s working as intended.”

“I believe we need a more active role for governments and regulators, which is why in March last year I called for regulation on harmful content, privacy, elections, and data portability. We stand ready to work with Congress on what regulation could look like in these areas,” he said in prepared remarks.

Attacks on Section 230 have escalated in recent days as Facebook and Twitter limited the distribution of a series of articles by the conservative-leaning New York Post that claimed it obtained “smoking-gun” emails about Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, and his dealings in Ukraine. CNN has not determined the authenticity of the emails.

Facebook said it decided to “reduce distribution” of the article “pending fact-check review” as part of its policy against “misinformation.” Twitter later blocked users from tweeting links to the main story as part of its policy against spreading “hacked materials,” even though it wasn’t clear whether the underlying emails attributed to Hunter Biden were hacked, copied, or fabricated.

US authorities are investigating whether the recently published emails are connected to an ongoing Russian disinformation effort targeting the former vice president’s campaign, a US official and a congressional source briefed on the matter said.





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