With next week’s election looming, the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google were scolded by Republicans at a Senate hearing Wednesday for alleged anti-conservative bias in the companies’ social media platforms and received a warning of coming restrictions from Congress.
Lawmakers of both parties are assessing the companies’ tremendous power to disseminate speech and ideas, and need to challenge their long-enjoyed bedrock legitimate protections for online speech.
The Trump administration, seizing on unfounded accusations of bias against conservative views, has asked Congress to strip one of the most protections that have in most cases shielded the tech companies from legitimate responsibility for what people post on their platforms.
“The time has come for that free pass to end,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, chairman of the Senate Business, Science and Transportation Committee. Wicker, R-Overlook., said the laws governing online speech will have to be up to date because “the openness and freedom of the internet are under attack.”
He spoke at the opening of the hearing as Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai waited to testify via video.
Wicker cited the move this month by Facebook and Twitter to limit dissemination of an unverified political story from the conservative-leaning New York Post approximately Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The story, which was once not confirmed by other publications, cited unverified emails from Biden’s son Hunter that were reportedly disclosed by Trump allies.
Republicans led by President Donald Trump have accused the social media platforms, without evidence, of intentionally suppressing conservative, devout and anti-abortion views.
In their prepared testament, Dorsey, Zuckerberg and Pichai addressed the proposals for changes to a provision of a 1996 law that has served as the foundation for unfettered speech on the web. Critics in both parties say that immunity under Section 230 enables the social media companies to abdicate their responsibility to impartially moderate satisfied.
Zuckerberg acknowledged that Congress “will have to update the law to ensure it’s working as intended.”
Dorsey and Pichai urged caution in making any changes. “Undermining Section 230 will result in far more removal of online speech and impose severe limitations on our collective ability to address harmful satisfied and offer protection to people online,” Dorsey said.
Pichai appealed to lawmakers “to be very considerate approximately any changes to Section 230 and to be very aware of the consequences those changes might have on businesses and consumers.”
The session lacked the in-person drama of star-witness proceedings before the coronavirus. The hearing room was once almost empty except for for Wicker and a couple of colleagues, but their questioning was once sharp as tempers flared among members.
“Twitter’s conduct has by far been the most egregious,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told Dorsey. Cruz cited Twitter’s limitations on the newspaper story as a part of “a sample of censorship and silencing Americans with whom Twitter disagrees.”
Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, went after Republicans, saying the hearing was once a “sham.”
“This is bullying,” Schatz told the CEOs. “Do not let US senators bully you into carrying the water” for politicians seeking to discredit their opponents. With their questions, Schatz said, the Republicans “are trying to bully the heads of private companies into making a hit job” on political leaders
Trump earlier this year signed an executive order challenging the protections from lawsuits under the 1996 telecommunications law.
Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd told congressional leaders in a letter Tuesday that recent events have made the changes more pressing, and said the restrictions by Twitter and Facebook related to the newspaper story was once “somewhat concerning.”
Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, an independent agency, recently announced plans to reexamine the legitimate protections — an about-face from the agency’s preceding position.
Social media giants are also under heavy scrutiny for their efforts to police misinformation approximately the election. Twitter and Facebook have imposed a misinformation label on satisfied from the president, who has approximately 80 million followers. Trump has raised the baseless prospect of mass fraud in the vote-by-mail process.
Starting Tuesday, Facebook didn’t accept any new political advertising. Up to now booked political ads will have the ability to run until the polls near Nov. 3, when all political advertising will temporarily be banned. Google, which owns YouTube, also is halting political ads after the polls near. Twitter banned all political ads final year.
Democrats have focused their criticism of social media chiefly on hate speech, misinformation and other satisfied that can incite violence or retain people from voting. They’ve criticized the tech CEOs for failing to police satisfied, homing in on the platforms’ role in hate crimes and the upward push of white nationalism in america.
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have scrambled to stem the tide of fabric that incites violence and spreads lies and baseless conspiracy theories.
The companies reject accusations of bias but have wrestled with how strongly they will have to intervene. They’ve ceaselessly gone out of their way not to seem biased against conservative views — a posture that some say effectively tilts them toward those viewpoints. The effort has been particularly strained for Facebook, which was once caught off guard in 2016, when it was once used as a conduit by Russian agents to spread misinformation benefiting Trump’s presidential crusade.