The CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google return (virtually) to Congress Wednesday before the Senate Trade Committee to defend their shield of legal liability with lawmakers eager to weaken it. They are defending a law protecting Internet companies in front of the US Senate on Wednesday. The topic divides U.S. lawmakers on how to hold Big Tech accountable for how they moderate content on their platforms.
The law in question is Section 230 which effectively protects the status of network host, as opposed to media publishers. Section 230 protects technology platforms from liability for their users’ posts, but also allows them to moderate content that they deem “objectionable”.
Republicans have complained that the legal shield allows tech companies to get away with removing posts they disagree with, especially those from the Tories. Tech companies have repeatedly denied claims that their moderation practices are based on biased policies or algorithms.
Facebook Inc’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter Inc’s Jack Dorsey and Google’s Sundar Pichai will be asked virtually about how they monitor and moderate political content online. They should tell the committee chaired by Republican Senator Roger Wicker that Section 230 of the Decency of Communications Act – which protects businesses from liability for content posted by users – is crucial for free expression on the Internet.
Twitter’s Dorsey will warn the committee that eroding the rationale for Section 230 could significantly damage the way people communicate online. Zuckerberg, who is likely to say he supports the change in the law, will also warn that tech platforms are likely to censor more to avoid legal risks if Section 230 is repealed. The hearing comes after Republican President Donald Trump has repeatedly called for tech companies to be held responsible for suppressing conservative voices.
As a result, calls for Section 230 reform intensified from Republican lawmakers ahead of the November 3 election. Senator Ted Cruz posted a photo to Twitter on Tuesday titled “Cruz vs Dorsey Free Speech Showdown” that showed he and Dorsey from Twitter were facing off in a UFC style fight. “I have said for a long time that Big Tech poses the greatest threat to our First Amendment rights and the future of democracy,” Cruz said in a statement ahead of the hearing.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has also voiced support for the law’s repeal. Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate trade panel, initially rejected a Republicans’ request to subpoena the three CEOs to the hearing, but then changed her mind and said she welcomed of a “debate on 230”.
US lawmakers are not the only ones pushing for reform. The Executive Commission of the European Union is drafting a new digital services law which, in addition to tackling market abuse by dominant platforms, would also address liability for harmful or illegal content. Competition Commissioner Margrete Vestager is due to unveil her proposals on December 2.
The EU already has a code of conduct to tackle hate speech on social media, while Germany has passed legislation requiring platforms to remove illegal or offensive content quickly or face heavy fines .