Zuckerberg and Dorsey warn against stripping tech firms of protection

Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey will warn that stripping tech firms of protection from libel would harm free expression on the internet and could ‘stifle expression or impede innovation’

  • Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and Sundar Pichai will testify Wednesday
  • The CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google will appear via videolink
  • The trio will address a hearing at the Senate Commerce Committee
  • The meeting is to discuss Section 230 – an exemption for tech companies 
  • Under the rule tech firms are not liable for content on their platforms
  • Zuckerberg and Dorsey will argue that removing Section 230 limits free speech
  • Pichai’s remarks have not been released ahead of time 

The bosses of Twitter and Facebook plan on warning senators on Wednesday that removing a special designation for tech firms that means they cannot be held liable for content posted on their platforms will endanger free speech.

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, and Mark Zuckerberg, the head of Facebook, will appear via videolink before the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday.

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet, will also testify. 

Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook (left) and Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, will testify Wednesday

The meeting has been called to discuss Section 230 – part of an internet law created in the 1990s that prevents tech platforms from being treated as publishers.

The law means that, unlike newspapers, social media platforms cannot be held liable for content that people post on their sites, including hate speech and misinformation.

Tech firms maintain that Section 230 is what protects free speech on the open internet. 

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet, will also address the hearing 

Dorsey, whose speech was provided to Business Insider, said stripping back Section 230 could ‘collapse how we communicate on the Internet’.

He warned it would leave ‘only a small number of giant and well-funded’ tech firms.

‘Twitter’s purpose is to serve the public conversation,’ Dorsey will say.

‘We want to make sure conversations on Twitter are healthy and that people feel safe to express their point of view.

‘We do our work recognizing that free speech and safety are interconnected, and can sometimes be at odds.’

He said Twitter was dedicated to increasing ‘trust’ in the company by being transparent about their moderation systems.

He said they worked to make the process fair, with a system of appeals.

Dorsey maintained that Twitter increased a user’s control over the algorithms, allowing more choice as to what a user saw.

And he said they were working to protect users’ privacy.

He urged ‘thoughtfulness and restraint’ from the committee. 

All three men are expected to ask for restraint from the committee to protect free speech

Zuckerberg’s testimony, also seen by the site, warned that platforms such as his could ‘face liability for doing even basic moderation, such as removing hate speech and harassment that impacts the safety and security of their communities.’

He said that at Facebook they ‘stand ready to work with Congress on what regulation could look like’.

But, he warned, they should be sure not to ‘stifle expression or impede innovation’. 

Pichai’s testimony was not provided. 

Roger Wicker, a Republican senator for Mississippi and the chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, said that the session will discuss whether Section 230 has ‘outlived its usefulness in today’s digital age.’

The committee said: ‘It will also examine legislative proposals to modernize the decades-old law, increase transparency and accountability among big technology companies for their content moderation practices, and explore the impact of large ad-tech platforms on local journalism and consumer privacy.’

Senators sounded a conciliatory note, saying they hoped to discuss ‘how best to preserve the internet as a forum for open discourse.’ 

On Friday another committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the chief executives of Twitter and Facebook will testify before the panel on November 17, over their decision to block stories that made claims about Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son.  

The Judiciary committee voted on Thursday to subpoena the two CEOs.

The executives will testify on allegations of anti-conservative bias, the committee said.  

The companies have come under heavy criticism from conservatives over their decision to flag two New York Post stories as spreading disinformation.   

The companies have come under heavy criticism from conservatives over their decision to flag the Post stories as spreading disinformation and censor the story

The CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet Inc will also testify before the Senate Commerce Committee on October 28 about a key law protecting internet companies.

Trump and many Republican lawmakers have continued to criticize tech companies for allegedly stifling conservative voices. 

Both hearings are aimed at discussing the issue. 

The hearings come just over a week after Dorsey apologized after Twitter blocked a story about Biden and his dealings in Ukraine leading to accusations of censorship and election interference.  

Many say it demonstrates big tech’s bias towards the left, given the fact that many anti-Trump stories have been posted and shared online without intervention despite denials from the President or conservatives over the years.

Dorsey tweeted that his company’s actions had been ‘unacceptable’ and explained there had been a lack of communication surrounding Twitter’s decision which was ‘unacceptable’ but that he stood by the decision to block it. 

‘Our communication around our actions on the NYPost article was not great. And blocking URL sharing via tweet or DM with zero context as to why we’re blocking: unacceptable,’ he said. 

He then linked to a statement from the company that said it was restricting the link because ‘personal and private information’ had been shared in the story. 

Hunter and Joe Biden. The Post story suggests that Joe, while VP, had a meeting with a Ukrainian businessman after being introduced to him by Hunter, eight months before pressuring Ukrainian officials to fire a prosecutor who was investigating the businessman

The Post story says that the former vice president met with Ukrainian businessman Vadym Pozharskyi, as associate of his son Hunter, months before Biden would pressure Ukrainian officials to fire a prosecutor who was investigating Pozharskyi’s firm.  

Twitter claimed that they placed the restrictions on the articles as they contained personal information such as phone numbers, as well as information that had been hacked. 

‘The images contained in the articles include personal and private information — like email addresses and phone numbers — which violate our rules,’ the company stated. 

‘We also currently view materials included in the articles as violations of our Hacked Materials Policy.

‘Commentary on or discussion about hacked materials, such as articles that cover them but do not include or link to the materials themselves, aren’t a violation of this policy. 

‘Our policy only covers links to or images of hacked material themselves,’ it concluded.  

Facebook and Twitter were accused of ‘election interference’ for throttling the article. 

Facebook claimed it needed to be independently verified by fact-checkers before it could be shared on their platforms. 

The social network decided to ‘reduce distribution’ of the article until it has been verified by its own, third-party ‘fact checkers’.   

In an editorial, the New York Post also refuted the hacking claims, stating that the original story explains where the material came from. 

‘Our story explains where the info came from, and a Senate committee now confirms it also received the files from the same source,’ it hit back.

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