New important meeting for the main executives of Google, Facebook and Twitter -Sundar Pichai, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, respectively-. The hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee will confront legislators this Wednesday with some of the big technology companies less than a week before the controversial presidential elections. In the spotlight is the so-called Section 230 law, which protects companies from liability for content posted by their users.
This is the second appearance of big tech executives before legislators. At the end of July, Pichai and Zuckerberg, along with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Apple CEO Tim Cook, appeared online before the U.S. Congress’ antitrust subcommittee.
Both the Administration of President Donald Trump and its allies have multiplied efforts in the corridors of Washington to attack Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This law is not only the result of Trump’s concern. Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate, has also called for its repeal, arguing that it allows companies to evade responsibility.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said Tuesday that the proposal to reform a law that provides online liability protection could lead to more “harmful content” by limiting the ability of platforms to remove abusive material. These comments are part of the testimony prepared by the executive. “Eroding the foundation of Section 230 could collapse the way we communicate on the Internet, leaving only a small number of giant, well-funded technology companies,” Dorsey said.
Ted Cruz promoting tomorrow’s Senate hearing with Zuckerberg, @jack, and Sundar like it’s a UFC fight. pic.twitter.com/13rUwFff5G
- Donie O’Sullivan (@donie) October 28, 2020
“Thanks to Section 230, people are free to use the Internet to express themselves,” said Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook. “We believe in giving people a voice, even when that means defending the rights of people we don’t agree with,” he added.
The so-called Section 230 is a federal standard created in 1996 for the then nascent Internet industry. In that year, Google was two years away from being born and Mark Zuckerberg was an 11-year-old schoolboy. The law only adds 28 words: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or issuer of any information from any other information content provider,” the law states. This section states that these companies are platforms, not content publishers. Therefore, they cannot be held responsible for the publications of their users.
Legislators on the warpath
The directors will have in front of them this Wednesday a series of political leaders led by the head of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai. There are no unanimous accusations: the Democratic wing believes Section 230 is too lenient and allows the proliferation of abusive content and incitement to violence. Republicans, on the other hand, argue that it is used in an unfair manner and gives platforms the right to suppress the most conservative publications, especially those of President Trump.
Republican Senator Roger Wicker, who chairs the panel, introduced a bill on 8 September that would limit this immunity by requiring platforms to show “objective reasonableness” when removing content. “Large technology companies have stretched their liability shield beyond its limits and public debate is suffering because of it,” Senator Marsha Blackburn said in co-sponsoring the bill last month.
Section 230 advocates say the law provides incentives for responsible content filtering and that, according to some of the proposals, Internet services could end up having to filter all content posted by third parties, threatening the social networking business model. Several analysts quoted by Efe say, however, that reforming Section 230 is now inevitable in light of growing concerns about the dominance of large Internet platforms.