World News – UA – Facebook, Twitter, Google CEOs testify in Senate: what to watch out for


A trio of Silicon Valley’s biggest names will be in the hot seat Wednesday for a US Senate hearing focused on a decades-old legal shield that has recently come under fire

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, and Google’s Sundar Pichai appear practically at 10 a.m. ET before the Republican-controlled Senate Commerce Committee to answer questions under oath on whether the act of being immune from prosecution allowed « Big Tech’s bad behavior »

Tech officials plan to defend Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act, a 1996 law that states that websites cannot be held legally responsible for what people post, no matter how offensive or harmful it may be. he

Section 230 is « a law that protects third-party speech online more than any other country in the world, » Jeff Kosseff wrote in a book on the law titled The Twenty-Six Words That Made the Internet

Indeed, the law has allowed companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google to turn into massive operations that permeate almost every aspect of modern life without fear of crippling lawsuits.

But in recent months, as calls to tame Big Tech have grown louder, Section 230 has become a handy punch bag for Democrats and Republicans, with lawmakers from both parties arguing for the revision or repeal of the law

In leaders’ opening remarks provided to NPR, the three plan to defend Article 230

Zuckerberg will say that the law allowed the construction of all major Internet services and ensured that free expression could flourish on platforms

Section 230 also allows platforms to control content as they see fit. Without this power, suppressing hate speech and harassment could lead to prosecution, Zuckerberg plans to say

« Changing it is a big decision However, I think Congress should update the law to make sure it works as intended. We support the ideas about transparency and industrial collaboration that are discussed in some of the current bipartite proposals, and I look forward to a constructive dialogue on how we might update the law to address the issues we face today say

Dorsey, of Twitter, intends to back this up, pointing out how breaking the law would radically transform the online world for the worse.

« The erosion of the foundations of Section 230 could cause the way we communicate on the Internet to fail, leaving only a small number of giant, well-funded tech companies, » Dorsey testifies

« As you reflect on how to shape policy in this important area, » Pichai hopes to say « I urge the committee to be very careful with any changes to section 230 and to be very aware of the consequences these changes could have on businesses and consumers « 

Repealing Section 230 Would Have Widespread Ripple Effects Product reviews on Amazon, restaurant reviews on Yelp, entries on Wikipedia, and discussions on Reddit are all examples of content that could be impacted by a major overhaul of the law

In May, Trump tweeted a false statement regarding postal voting, and for the first time, Twitter placed a tag on it telling people they should get the facts elsewhere

The move angered Trump, who started drumming for Section 230 repeal Weeks after Twitter’s action, the president signed a largely symbolic executive order aimed at « unchecked power tech companies to censor, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alert virtually any form of peer-to-peer communication »

But Trump and his Republican allies were not alone in opposing Section 230 Democrats in Congress have also sharply criticized the law Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden says he would be « immediately dismissed » Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas argued earlier this month for a « drastic reduction in immunity » Section 230 grants to tech companies

In a reversal of his previous position, the Trump-appointed chairman of the Federal Communications Commission last week announced an effort to « clarify the scope » of the law, which critics have said is beyond the commission’s power

Critics of the president questioned the timing for the new review of the law just days before the election

« The moment is striking and disturbing, » Eric Goldman, professor of law at the University of Santa Clara, said in an interview. « It seems designed to appeal to Trump’s top voters to make it look like there is a problem with Big Tech and Trump is fixing it »

If history is any guide, Republicans will use Wednesday to confront tech CEOs with the idea that Facebook and Twitter are biased against conservatives, as they did in July, when executives of tech were supposed to sit for questions about corporate market power

Republicans recently highlighted Facebook and Twitter’s decision to remove links on platforms to a New York Post article about Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden The article was underpinned by shaky sourcing that raised red flags among seasoned investigative journalists

Whenever a platform places a warning label or removes pro-conservative content, Republicans blame social media companies for being motivated by an anti-conservative agenda

Yet rigorous research has shown that social media provides a megaphone for conservative stories and voices, sometimes helping even right-wing fringe views reach millions of people.

Steven Johnson, a data scientist at the University of Virginia, recently completed a study on how nearly 200,000 people used social media over four years

When asked if there was any evidence that conservative content was routinely deleted on Facebook, by far the largest social network, Johnson was quick to respond

“Quite the contrary,” he says “Our search results are consistent with Facebook’s algorithms which prioritize conservative content, at least for its most conservative users »

Johnson found that the more time people spend on Facebook, the more polarized their online news coverage becomes.For the Conservatives, however, the content extremes were much more pronounced

« For conservatives, more polarized news consumption is five times more polarizing for conservatives than for liberals, » he said “Facebook’s algorithms shape what people see and what they choose to visit,” he said « Our evidence is strongly consistent with Facebook’s algorithm that was designed to encourage this »

Jack Dorsey, US Senate, Mark Zuckerberg, Section 230, Twitter, Facebook, Sundar Pichai

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