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Section 230 hearing: Tech CEOs defend law shielding user content


Oct. 28 (UPI) — Facebook chief and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg told Senate lawmakers Wednesday he favors updating a federal law that shields social media platforms from liability connected to user content.

Zuckerberg appeared remotely before the Senate committee on commerce, science and transportation for a hearing that sought to examine whether the federal law “enables bad behavior” by technology companies.

Zuckerberg was joined in testimony by Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter chief Jack Dorsey.

In his opening statement, Zuckerberg credited the decades-old law known as “Section 230” with “creating the Internet as we know it.”

“The Internet has also evolved,” he added. “And I think that Congress should update the law to make sure that it is working as intended.”

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shields social platforms from liability by saying they are mere conduits for users’ content that the companies are under no obligation to moderate.

Zuckerberg said updating the law should require that platforms provide more transparency on how their content moderation policies work.

“Another would be [to] separate ‘good actors’ from ‘bad actors’ by making sure that companies can’t hide behind Section 230 to avoid responsibility,” he said.

“We’re open to working with Congress on these ideas and more, and I hope the changes that you make will ring true to the intent and spirit of Section 230.”

Dorsey offered a similar view to Zuckerberg calling for a “straightforward” appeals process and allowing for consumers to determine the algorithms that curate their social media feeds.

“It is the concept of good faith a lot of you are challenging today,” Dorsey said. “Some of you don’t trust we are acting in good faith. That is the problem I want to focus on solving — how Twitter can earn your trust.

In his prepared remarks, Dorsey said the law allows small companies to compete in the market and that a repeal could “collapse how we communicate on the Internet, leaving only a small number of giant and well-funded technology companies.”

“Without Section 230, platforms could potentially be held liable for everything people say,” he added.

Republicans have complained about tech companies blocking conservative content. President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly complained about Twitter flagging his tweets as inaccurate or misleading, has called for eliminating Section 230 entirely.

Trump took to Twitter amid the hearing to call for Section 230’s repeal, alleging that social media companies have stifled coverage of alleged corrupt behavior by his Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his family.

“The USA doesn’t have Freedom of the Press, we have Suppression of the Story, or just plain Fake News,” Trump wrote. “So much has been learned in the last two weeks about how corrupt our Media is, and now Big Tech, maybe even worse. Repeal Section 230!”

Committee Chairman Roger Wicker opened the hearing by accusing tech companies of implementing an “apparent double standard” under Section 230 to the detriment of conservatives.

“The time has come for that free pass to end,” Wicker said of the liability protections under the law.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, grilled Dorsey about Twitter’s decision to restrict a New York Post story about Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.

“Mr. Dorsey, 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, and why do you persist in behaving as a Democratic super PAC silencing views to the contrary of your political beliefs?”

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., questioned why Twitter flagged some of Trump’s tweets but did not take action on tweets from Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“It’s strange to me that you’ve flagged the tweets from [President Trump], but you haven’t hidden the Ayatollah’s call to wipe Israel off the map,” Gardner said.

Dorsey said Ayatollah’s tweets represented “saber-rattling” that does not violate Twitter policies.

Pichai asserted that Google does not approach its work with any political bias “full stop.”

“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,” he said.

Democrats, in turn, have criticized Facebook and Twitter for allowing “bot” accounts to spread misinformation across social media — including many that are based overseas, including Russia.

On Wednesday, however, many Democrats declared the hearing a “sham” and accused Republicans of attempting to push through misinformation.

“This is bullying and it’s for electoral purposes,” said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. “Do not let the United States Senate bully you into carrying water for those who want to spread misinformation.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., on Wednesday said she hoped the hearing would not produce a “chilling effect” on tech companies’ efforts to combat misinformation.

The panel is trying to learn whether the law has “outlived its usefulness in today’s digital age” and evaluate the platforms’ efforts to police content and impacts on local journalism and consumer privacy.

Zuckerberg and Pichai last appeared together in Congress in July, when they were joined by other tech leaders to testify in an antitrust hearing.


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