Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey told US lawmakers on Tuesday that they want to encourage safety and free expression on their social networks, pushing back against allegations of anti-conservative bias.
Zuckerberg said the social network grapples with “difficult trade-offs” and the company does what’s best for the community.
“I believe that some of these trade-offs and decisions would be better made through a democratic process,” Zuckerberg told the Senate judiciary committee.
While the executives outlined the work they’ve done to safeguard elections, both acknowledged there’s more work to do. They welcomed regulation but cautioned against changes that could harm smaller tech companies and innovation.
“We are required to help increase the health of the conversation, while at the same time ensuring that as many people as possible can participate,” Dorsey said.
Dorsey said Congress should build on a federal law called Section 230 that shields online platforms from liability for user-generated content rather than eliminate it. Possible solutions include “additions to Section 230, industry-wide self-regulation best practices, or a new legislative framework,” he said. Zuckerberg said Congress should update Section 230 “to make sure it’s working as intended.”
Republicans called Tuesday’s hearing, titled Breaking the News: Censorship, Suppression, and the 2020 Election, after the social networks slowed the spread of a New York Post article that suggested unproven improprieties involving the son of now President-elect Joe Biden. The move enraged Republicans, who viewed it as an effort to support Biden’s candidacy. The firms deny these allegations.
Twitter initially blocked users from sharing the New York Post article because it violated its rules against hacked materials and sharing personal information. The company made a series of policy changes, stopped blocking the links and restored the New York Post’s Twitter account.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggested that social networks make editorial decisions. “What I want to try to find out is if you’re not a newspaper at Twitter or Facebook then why do you have editorial control over the New York Post?,” he said.
A growing number of Americans are getting their news on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. This shift to online news consumption has raised concerns about the health of the media environment, as well as worries about the power that a small group of companies wield over what we see and read. Republicans say the companies are skewed against them and censor their views. Democrats say the companies aren’t doing enough to combat the spread disinformation, misinformation and outright lies.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said that social networks have taken “baby steps” to address this problem. “That’s not censorship. That’s moral and civic responsibility,” he said.
Both social networks have grappled with an onslaught of conspiracy theories, as well as false claims about voter fraud and even who won the election. Major news outlets called the presidential race for Biden, the Democratic challenger, more than a week ago. Trump hadn’t conceded as of Tuesday morning.
Twitter took a tougher stance than Facebook did against election misinformation by limiting the reach of tweets, including some of Trump’s. Both Facebook and Twitter labeled Trump posts that included baseless claims about voter fraud, and directed users to online hubs with authoritative election information. Facebook pulled down a massive user group that falsely alleged Democrats were trying to steal the election, after some members called for violence.
The election has put a spotlight on political content. Facebook says about 6% of content on the social network is political in nature. The social network added warning labels to more than 150 million pieces of content after they were debunked by fact checkers.
Twitter hasn’t shared publicly how much of its content is political. The company said last week that it labeled roughly 0.2% of election-related tweets, or 300,000 of them, for including disputed or misleading content in the period before and after the vote.
Tuesday’s hearing comes nearly three weeks after Zuckerberg, Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai weathered a combative hearing in front of the Senate commerce committee about Section 230.
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