Nov 17, 2020 - Technology

Facebook and Twitter CEOs to defend their firms at Senate hearing

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies via video conference before the Senate Commerce Committee in October 2020.

Photo: Michael Reynolds/Pool via Getty Images

At a Senate hearing Tuesday morning, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter's Jack Dorsey will stress their companies' work to limit online misinformation and will endorse updating tech's prized liability shield as long as Congress doesn't blow it up.

Why it matters: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects online platforms from lawsuits over moderation calls and user-posted content, and many policymakers view amending or even eliminating the law as their best lever to change how companies govern online speech.

Driving the news: The two chief executives will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee via video conference for a hearing entitled "Breaking the News: Censorship, Suppression, and the 2020 Election."

  • Democrats have slammed the platforms for letting President Trump spread misinformation about voting processes and results before and after Election Day.
  • Republicans have cried censorship over labels that Facebook and Twitter have added to posts such as Trump's repeated false claims that he won the 2020 election.

Dorsey, per advance testimony shared by Twitter, will:

  • deny that Twitter's employees and content moderation choices are biased against conservatives;
  • run down actions Twitter has taken against misinformation before and since the election, noting that this work remains ongoing; and
  • encourage lawmakers to work with industry and civil society groups to explore modifying Section 230 or writing additional legislation to address concerns, but not eliminate, erode, or add speech-chilling moderation mandates to the law.

Zuckerberg will similarly detail the actions Facebook has taken on misinformation, a company spokesperson said, as well as reiterate the company's support for updating Section 230, such as to add language requiring tech firms to be more transparent about moderation practices or work together to combat problematic material.

  • He'll also call for new federal regulations on privacy, elections and data portability.

Reality check: Whatever Dorsey and Zuckerberg say to kick things off, the hearing is bound to tumble quickly into political theater — likely over litigating claims of censorship in individual instances of certain tweets that contain voting misinformation being labeled or hidden from view.

Between the lines: Close Trump ally Lindsey Graham will preside over the hearing as Judiciary chair.

  • Other Judiciary Republicans include some of the most vocal proponents of the bias-against-conservatives charge, including Sens. Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz and Marsha Blackburn.
  • Watch for confrontations that will play well with the GOP base in clips from the hearing that members will share online afterward.
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