Zuckerberg, Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee in late October to face similar questions regarding censorship. The companies’ enactment of new policies during and after the election to prevent the spread of misinformation highlighted the power both platforms hold in censoring content.
Dorsey testified that Twitter removed some 300,000 election-related tweets between Oct. 27 and Nov. 11, representing 0.2% of all election-related tweets on the platform. Twitter has labeled or removed well over 50 posts from President Trump since Election Day.
“In the lead up to the 2020 elections, we made significant enhancements to our policies to protect the integrity of the election. Most notably, this year, we updated our civic integrity policy to more comprehensively enforce labeling or removing of false and misleading information,” Dorsey wrote in his testimony.
He added that Twitter announced these changes publicly and briefed both presidential campaigns on the updated policies.
Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk on Tuesday praised Dorsey’s opening statement posted to Twitter.
“Well said,” Musk replied to Dorsey’s Twitter thread.
Republican lawmakers have long criticized censorship on social media platforms, arguing that certain content moderation policies and decisions unfairly target conservative users and posts.
Tuesday’s hearing was called after lawmakers took issue with Twitter’s and Facebook’s respective decisions to temporarily block the distribution of a New York Post story about President-Elect Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden and his alleged foreign business dealings. Both platforms allowed the distribution of the article after outcries.
Tuesday’s hearing has included discussion points echoing those that were mentioned during the Senate Commerce Committee’s October hearing but from a post-election perspective, including Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which could face reform under the Biden administration.
Section 230 offers liability protections to social media and other tech platforms that allow third-party users to publish content on their websites.
While there appears to be a bipartisan concern that Big Tech has too much power and wealth in general, Republicans have focused much of their efforts on limiting what they allege to be censorship from Big Tech companies — which are mostly staffed by Democratic voters. Trump has called to revoke Section 230 to take away protections from companies that wrongly censor users.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-SC, said during Tuesday’s hearing that Section 230 needs to be changed after bringing up Facebook’s and Twitter’s decisions to limit the Post article and accusing the companies of making “editorial” decisions. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, also accused both companies of “editorializing.”
Biden has also called to revoke Section 230 but for the opposite reason; he and other Democrats have argued that social media companies should be held liable for not censoring enough content that could lead to harm.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., for example, brought up Steve Bannon’s violent rhetoric, made during his show posted online, against FBI Director Christopher Wray and Dr. Anthony Fauci. Google removed an episode of Bannon’s show on YouTube, and Twitter suspended his account. Blumenthal pressed Zuckerberg about why Facebook did not suspend Bannon.
“I’m very concerned that, in fact, Facebook seems to have a record of making accommodations and caving to conservative pressure,” Blumenthal said. “And the president has tried to use an executive order on Section 230 to, again, bully or browbeat and exert pressure on you and others in this industry.”
Sen. Feinstein, D-Calif., brought up Trump’s tweets suggesting voter fraud took place during the 2020 election and asked Dorsey if Twitter’s label that reads, “This claim is disputed,” goes “far enough to prevent the tweet’s harms when the tweet is still visible and not accurate.” Dorsey said the label is linked to more information.
Zuckerberg and Dorsey suggested during the October hearing and on Tuesday that they are open to congressional action to amend Section 230. Changes could include requiring companies to have oversight boards so users could appeal censorship decisions and updating algorithms to increase transparency.
Graham also pressed Dorsey and Zuckerberg on social media addiction, asking both CEOs whether they believe their platforms are addictive and if they have seen “The Social Dilemma” — a movie available on Netflix that questions the benefits and downsides of social media’s role in society and polarization in the U.S.
Both CEOs said they had not seen or were not familiar with the film.
“I would encourage both of you to see it,” Graham said. “So, here’s what I think we’re going to do on the committee over time: I hope, is to ask the question more directly, are these social media sites addictive? Do they have a public health component that needs to be addressed? For years, we thought tobacco was a great thing. We found out tobacco was not such a great thing. The medical science around these websites are becoming more concerning to me, particularly among children.”
Vice President-elect Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., who may have signaled how the incoming Biden administration will handle Big Tech, will not participate in the hearing, an aide told Fox News.