CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google face Senate hearing

Big tech seeks to retain 230 protections and defend content moderation

The senate floor during a vote

Today, the CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter will appear before the Senate Commerce Committee to answer questions about the social platforms’ alleged conservative bias. Lawmakers are also threatening to change Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects internet companies’ ability to moderate user-generated content.

The hearing, which began livestreaming at 10:00 a.m. ET, is taking place less than one week before the US presidential election, and the social media companies have been preparing to deal with election misinformation campaigns. Republicans have accused Facebook and Twitter of bias, censorship and election interference due to their actions to slow the spread of fake and content.

The Senate Commerce Committee released a video before the hearing about the social platforms’ bias against conservative accounts. However, independent studies have determined there is no substantial evidence of the social media companies’ bias against right-wing posts.

"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," said Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter. "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."

According to Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, the company conducts its business without political bias. 

"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," said Pichai.

Section 230 will be central to the hearing. Social media companies have invoked this law in numerous court cases to dismiss lawsuits about their users’ messages, videos and other content. According to Section 230, "interactive computer services" are legally separate from users who generate this content. So, no one can accuse Twitter, Google and Facebook of publishing or "speaking" their users’ words. 

The courts have accepted Section 230 as a defense against defamation, negligence and other allegations in numerous cases. The social media CEOs have stated Section 230’s importance to their businesses and how reducing its effectiveness would lead to more content takedowns.

"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,” said Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook. “We stand ready to work with Congress on what regulation could look like in these areas." 

There have been more attacks on Section 230 recently because Facebook and Twitter have limited the distribution of New York Post’s articles about "smoking-gun" emails about Hunter Biden, the son of Joe Biden, and his dealings in Ukraine. 

Facebook decided to "reduce distribution" of the article "pending fact-check review" as part of its policy against misinformation. Twitter blocked users from tweeting links to the story under its policy against spreading "hacked materials." 

It’s not clear whether the emails attributed to Hunter Biden were hacked, copied, or fabricated. According to a US official and a congressional source familiar with the matter, US authorities are investigating the connection between the published emails and Russian disinformation efforts targeting the Biden campaign.

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