The presidents of Google, Twitter and Facebook returned this Wednesday (28) to testify in the U.S. Senate about moderating content on their platforms after accusing them of censoring content while not being responsible for spreading fakes his hate messages and speeches.
For nearly four hours, Twitter’s Jack Dorsay, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai (owner of Google) were bombarded from afar by 26 Democratic and Republican senators. The hearing was initially suspended for a few minutes because Zuckerberg was unable to connect to the conference call.
Republican senators argue that tech companies are not impartial and selectively wipe conservative opinions from their platforms. Democrats, on the other hand, believe the company is not doing enough to moderate comments and prioritize branding content that polarizes opinions and encourages violence.
The discussion is based on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Law, created two decades ago, which frees platforms from responsibility for user content. However, users, businesses and politicians have pressured social networks to take action in the fight against false news and hate speech.
For example, Republican Senator Cory Gardner cited occasions when Twitter labeled President Donald Trump as bogus posts, but did not do so with tweets denying the Holocaust or the threat to Israel from Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“His platform censors the President of the United States, but allows international dictators to publish propaganda,” he argued.
Senator Marsha Blackburn, also a Republican, pointed out that Twitter censored the president 64 times, not even with Russian Vladimir Putin. Dorsay countered that the tweets were not deleted from the platform, but marked as fake.
Another point the Senators recalled was that earlier this month Facebook and Twitter controlled the distribution of an article in the New York Post newspaper containing unsubstantiated allegations against Hunter Biden, son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden . The action of the networks was criticized and they went back to the measure.
In one of its most tense moments, Republican Senator Ted Cruz raised loftily, “Who the hell chose you to decide what the media can and can’t cover and what the American people can hear?” We are a family business.
Twitter and Google executives again warned of possible changes to Section 230. “Undermining the law could result in even more content being removed, severely limiting our collective ability to deal with harmful content and protect people online,” said Dorsey.
As a solution, he defended, for example, that network users have autonomy in choosing algorithms that filter the content, and possibly even using third-party algorithms.
“Our ability to provide access to a range of information is only possible thanks to existing legal frameworks such as Section 230,” argued Pichai.
Zuckerberg talked about updating the law. “Congress should do this to make sure the law works as intended. I don’t think tech companies should make decisions on such important issues alone.”
The presence of major tech presidents in Congress has become common as concerns about privacy, freedom of expression, and polarization mount. This was Zuckerberg’s fifth report card and the third from Sundar Pichai and Jack Dorsey.
The hearing took place less than a week before the November 3rd US presidential election, which was criticized by the Democrats. They argue that it could benefit Trump. “We are politicizing an issue that should not be partisan,” criticized Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar.