The Big Tech Trio appeared in front of the Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday to testify on Section 230 of 47 U.S. Code, Chapter 5, Wire or Radio Communications, Subchapter II, Common Carriers. Passed in 1996, and referred to as the Communications Decency Act,
At particular issue in the case of the tech giants is the following language, intended to promote an expansion of information as internet usage grew and to protect platform hosts from endless litigation over content:
(1)Treatment of publisher or speaker
No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of—
(A)any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected
Many argue that the law, as currently applied, offers tech giants undeserved liability protections while they simultaneously hinder the free speech of others.
Statements from the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook, and Google before the Senate Wednesday ranged from bizarre and blatantly false denials of censorship to gleeful endorsement of their own speech-chilling actions.
The hearing was set to address whether the act “has outlived its usefulness in today’s digital age” as well as possible modifications to the law in order to “increase transparency and accountability among big technology companies for their content moderation practices.”
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s testimony included a warning that “Weakening Section 230 protections will remove critical speech from the Internet,” although in the past two weeks Twitter has kept vital information regarding government corruption, directly related to a current presidential candidate, from the public at large.
The subject matter at hand, of course, lent itself to questioning surrounding Facebook and Twitter’s censorship against The New York Post and its reporting on the Hunter Biden Laptop From Hell, although a separate hearing on the matter is set to take place after the election.
“Twitter made the decision, number one, to prevent users, any users, from sharing those stories. And number two, you went even further and blocked the New York Post from sharing on Twitter its own reporting. Why did Twitter make the decision to censor the New York Post?” Sen. Ted Cruz questioned Twitter CEO Dorsey
Dorsey cited a “hacked materials” policy supposedly adopted in 2018 to prevent users from sharing illegally obtained information, saying that The Post fell victim to the policy because it showed screenshots of the material in question and it was “unclear how those were obtained.”
When questioned as to why Twitter did not apply this same standard to the New York Times’ report regarding President Trump’s Tax returns, Dorsey explained “because it was reporting about the material, it wasn’t distributing the material.”
Cruz retorted saying that characterization was “not true” and that the Times “posted what they purported to be original source material” regarding individual tax returns, “in violation of federal law,” alleging a double standard based on which presidential candidate is the subject of an article.
Dorsey’s response to that accusation was to point out that after censoring the Post, the company “recognized the errors in that policy” and changed it within 24 hours. Even so, he admitted that the Post still does not have access to its account.
“They have to log onto their account, delete the original tweet, which fell under our original enforcement actions, and they can tweet the exact same material to the exact same article, and it will go through,” Dorsey said regarding the Post’s account.
Dorsey then claimed that the situation had been rectified so that “anyone can tweet” links to the Post’s coverage of the Biden Laptop. At the time he said this it was untrue. Multiple twitter users demonstrated being unable to tweet the article at the time of Dorsey’s comments on Wednesday.
Nothing like lying under oath https://t.co/Jp7monfPNs
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) October 28, 2020
Shortly after Dorsey’s comments, the problem magically resolved itself. Links to the post coverage can now be tweeted. The Post’s Twitter account remains inactive.
Dorsey also emphatically claimed that Twitter does not have the “ability to influence elections,” as phrased by Cruz.
“Well, we can give a more exhaustive list, but again, we don’t have the political ideology of our accounts,” Dorsey told Sen. Mike Lee when asked if he could name a high-profile liberal that had been censored by the platform.
“I’m not asking for an exhaustive list, I’m asking for a single example,” said Lee. “Just one individual, one entity.”
“We’ve taken action on tweets from members of the House for election misinfo,” said Dorsey, without naming any individuals. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave a similar answer, telling Lee that he would get him a “list” without naming any specific individuals.
Dorsey’s assertion that Twitter does not “have the political ideology” of users is simply untrue.
“Jack Dorsey claimed in his Congressional hearing today that Twitter does not label users by their political ideology. That is objectively false. In fact, any user can see how Twitter has labeled them,” journalist Brett MacDonald pointed out on Twitter.
And he’s right. Any user can view their own interest categories as defined by twitter, with categories from “Boston Red Sox,” and “Astrology” to “Trump Supporters,” “Conservative,” and “Amy Coney Barrett.”
Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s testimony asserted that “We approach our work without political bias, full stop,” claiming that “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.” Pichai claimed that Section 230 protects Google’s ability to do this, calling it “foundational to US leadership in the tech sector.”
As recently highlighted by Human Events News, Behavioral Research Psychologist Robert Epstein warned about Big Tech 2020 election meddling in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee last year, calling Google a “serious threat to democracy.” He presented research concluding that the “Search Engine Manipulation Effect” employed by Google “can turn a 50/50 split among undecided voters into a 90/10 split without people’s awareness,” and that “Google has likely been determining the outcomes of upwards of 25 percent of the national elections worldwide since at least 2015.”
And while which side the company comes down on is no secret, Epstein presented research demonstrating that ““In 2016, biased search results generated by Google’s search algorithm likely impacted undecided voters in a way that gave at least 2.6 million votes to Hillary Clinton.”
Unlike Dorsey, Zuckerberg was willing to admit the obvious truth of his platform having the ability to influence elections. In fact, it was the main thrust of his testimony. Zuckerberg argued that Section 230 is needed because it “allows platforms to moderate content,” and offered Facebooks’ election information manipulation as evidence of this valuable service it offers.
Zuckerberg touted Facebook’s “Voting Information Center” that it will use “to prepare people for the possibility that it may take a while to get official results.”
“This information will help people understand that there is nothing illegitimate about not having a result on election night,” he explained
He also boasted of the company’s plans to “label” as misinformation any posts from “any candidate or campaign tries to declare victory before the results are in,” as well as any posts critical or skeptical of certain voting methods “for example, by claiming that lawful methods of voting will lead to fraud.”
Zuckerberg boasted his commitment to combating supposedly harmful speech, noting that the company is cracking down on “militias, conspiracy networks, and other groups that could be used to organize violence or civil unrest in the period after the election,” and that the company will “continue to ramp up enforcement over the coming weeks.”
Zuckerberg did not mention plans to crack down on progressive groups that have used social media platforms to organize riots and lootings over the past few months.