GOP Senators Scold CEOs 10/28 12:20
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.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- 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 are looking to challenge their long-enjoyed
bedrock legal protections for online speech.
The Trump administration, seizing on unfounded accusations of bias against
conservative views, has asked Congress to strip some of the protections that
have generally shielded the tech companies from legal 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 Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Wicker,
R-Miss., said the laws governing online speech must be updated 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
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 about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The story, which
was 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 deliberately suppressing conservative,
religious and anti-abortion views.
In their prepared testimony, 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 internet. Critics in both parties say
that immunity under Section 230 enables the social media companies to abdicate
their responsibility to impartially moderate content.
Zuckerberg acknowledged that Congress "should update the law to make sure
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 content and protect
people online," Dorsey said.
Pichai appealed to lawmakers "to be very thoughtful about 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 nearly empty except for Wicker and a few
colleagues, but their questioning was 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 part of "a pattern of censorship and silencing Americans with whom Twitter
Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, went after Republicans, saying the hearing was
"This is bullying," Schatz told the CEOs. "Do not let U.S. 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 urgent, and said
the restrictions by Twitter and Facebook related to the newspaper story was
Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, an independent
agency, recently announced plans to reexamine the legal protections -- an
about-face from the agency's previous position.
Social media giants are also under heavy scrutiny for their efforts to
police misinformation about the election. Twitter and Facebook have imposed a
misinformation label on content from the president, who has about 80 million
followers. Trump has raised the baseless prospect of mass fraud in the
Starting Tuesday, Facebook didn't accept any new political advertising.
Previously booked political ads will be able to run until the polls close Nov.
3, when all political advertising will temporarily be banned. Google, which
owns YouTube, also is halting political ads after the polls close. Twitter
banned all political ads last year.
Democrats have focused their criticism of social media mainly on hate
speech, misinformation and other content that can incite violence or keep
people from voting. They have criticized the tech CEOs for failing to police
content, homing in on the platforms' role in hate crimes and the rise of white
nationalism in the U.S.
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have scrambled to stem the tide of material
that incites violence and spreads lies and baseless conspiracy theories.
The companies reject accusations of bias but have wrestled with how strongly
they should intervene. They have often gone out of their way not to appear
biased against conservative views -- a posture that some say effectively tilts
them toward those viewpoints. The effort has been especially strained for
Facebook, which was caught off guard in 2016, when it was used as a conduit by
Russian agents to spread misinformation benefiting Trump's presidential