On Wednesday, with less than a week to go until Election Day, the biggest tech company’s CEOs were questioned about misinformation, censorship, and foreign interference in US elections from Senators part of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, and Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO met (virtually) with Republican and Democratic Senators who questioned them on the process of how they decide what is allowed to be posted on their platforms and what is not.
The hearing was about modifying Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, on which there is bipartisan agreement. However, there is not much agreement on how the section should be changed. Republicans argue that this law allows tech companies to censor conservatives, including President Trump, unfairly, whereas Democrats argue that these companies should be held accountable for hate speech, misinformation, and other damaging content that is escalated on their platform.
Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden have said this law should be revoked.
Mr. Dorsey does not agree with completely cancelling the law. During the hearing, he said, “Section 230 is the most important law protecting Internet speech, and removing Section 230 will remove speech from the Internet.”
The hearing comes weeks after Twitter blocked links to a New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s leaked e-mails, a decision which was later reversed.
Republican Senator Ted Cruz yelled at Twitter’s CEO asking him, “Who 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?” to which Mr. Dorsey calmly responded, “We realize we need to earn trust more, we realize more accountability is needed.”
Other Republicans were also concerned that these big tech companies make decisions about content that are biased towards the Democratic party, arguing that will hurt the Republican party on Election Day.
During the questioning, Senators told incidents of when conservative law makers or media outlets had their content deleted on the three services, mainly pointing towards the story on Hunter Biden.
Mr. Wicker, a conservative Senator, accused Mr. Dorsey of allowing foreign dictators to post propaganda with no restrictions, but said when it comes to the President of the United States, Twitter typically restricts him.
Contrastingly, Democrats had a very calm demeanour when questioning the chief executives. They asked broader questions, such as what steps each tech company takes to eliminate election interference, misinformation and hate speech. The Democrats of the Committee accused Republicans of holding the hearing so close to Election Day in an attempt to benefit President Trump’s reelection campaign.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, an unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate, said, “I want to know first why this hearing comes six days before Election Day, and it — I believe we are politicizing and the Republican majority is politicizing what should actually not be a partisan topic.”
Democrats were most critical of Mr. Zuckerberg, pressing him on his views on reforming the law and what Facebook has done to prepare for Election day. He answered by saying that Facebook was spending billions of dollars to ensure election security.
Mr. Zuckerberg added, “Democrats often say that we don’t remove enough content, and Republicans often say that we remove too much.” Both Mr. Dorsey and Mr. Zuckerberg agreed that companies should be very transparent about the decisions they make regarding what content stays and what doesn’t.
The least amount of questions were directed towards Google’s CEO, who was asked by Democrats whether he has any plans if Mr. Trump tries to use Google to interfere with the election, to which he said that his company has been working and will continue to work with official news sources.
All three of the CEOs said they have plans to provide election results from officials and agree that Section 230 should be updated, but don’t believe it should be eliminated entirely, arguing that this law makes them generally immune from liability of user’s posts, and also gives them the capacity to determine what content should be allowed and what should not.