Tech CEOs face tough questions from the Senate about free speech

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Both Republicans and Democrats peppered the executives with complaints

A Senate committee Wednesday pressed the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook, and Google about free speech and how their companies handle it. Democrats joined Republicans in offering complaints, but for different reasons.

At issue is an obscure provision of the law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which some lawmakers want to repeal. Doing so, the executives warned, would change the internet as we know it.

The provision makes platforms like Facebook and Twitter possible. It shields those companies from lawsuits if a user libels someone. Without Section 230, Twitter would have to review and edit all users’ posts to avoid being sued.

But Republicans, who control the Senate, called the hearing to complain that despite this blanket shield, social media companies are selectively controlling content, with a bias toward removing posts expressing conservative views.

Question of consistency

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) observed that Twitter lately has begun labeling some posts by President Trump as misleading but not questioning some threatening posts by Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei 

“I just don’t understand how Twitter can claim to want a world of less hate and misinformation while you simultaneously let the kind of content that the ayatollah has tweeted out to flourish,” Gardner said.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) pressed Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on why Twitter blocked posts of a recent New York Post story that was potentially damaging to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

“Who elected you and put you in charge of what the media is allowed to report?” Cruz asked.

Not vigilant enough

Democrats, meanwhile, complained that Twitter wasn’t being vigilant enough. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said the question isn’t about the posts Twitter blocks or edits, but about those that it leaves up.

Dorsey denied that Twitter favors Democrats over Republicans but said Trump’s tweets crossed a line when they questioned the voting process and stated things about the coronavirus (COVID-19) that Dorsey said weren’t true.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told lawmakers he believes some type of regulation of social media platforms is needed and that the companies should not be setting these policies themselves.

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