US: CEOs of Twitter, Facebook, Google to be grilled by the Senate

The senators will examine proposals to revise legal protections for online speech

Congress Social Media CEOs L-R: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg | AP

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai will be facing a grilling by Republican senators on allegations that the tech-giants show anti-conservative bias. The hearing is scheduled to take place on Wednesday. 

The Republican Party, about five days ahead of the US elections accuse the Big Tech of suppressing conservative, religious and anti-abortion views. Republicans protested against the online platforms after Facebook and Twitter limited dissemination of an unverified political story from the conservative-leaning New York Post about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, an unprecedented action against a major media outlet. 

The US government has also called for Google breakup in an antitrust lawsuit, which accuses the tech giant of being an illegal monopolist. Besides questioning the CEOs, the senators are expected to examine proposals to revise long-held legal protections for online speech. Critics in both parties have maintained that this protection enables the companies to abdicate their responsibility to impartially moderate the content.

Trump had signed an executive order challenging the protections from lawsuits under the 1996 telecommunications law. The Justice Department has asked Congress to strip the companies of protections that prevents them from legal repercussions for what people post on their platforms.

“For too long, social media platforms have hidden behind Section 230 protections to censor content that deviates from their beliefs,” Republican Senator Roger Wicker, Mississippi, the Commerce Committee chairman, said. “We don’t think tech companies should be making so many decisions about these important issues alone,” he added, approving government regulations on social media posts. 

In the opening statements for the hearing, the Senate addressed proposals to re-examine Section 230, a provision of a 1996 law that has served as the foundation for unfettered speech on the internet. Zuckerberg suggested the law be updated, while Dorsey and Pichai urged caution in making any changes. 

The head of the Federal Communications Commission, an independent agency, put forth plans re-examine the legal protections, potentially putting meat on the bones of Trump's order by opening the way to new rules. 

The Big Tech has also been under the scanner for trying to prevent fake news from circulating during a crucial time like the elections. 

Twitter and Facebook have slapped a misinformation label on content from the president, who has around 80 million followers. Google, which owns YouTube, also is halting political ads after the polls close. The criticism faced by the three companies over failing to police content has resulted in unwelcome attention to the three companies piles onto the anxieties in the tech industry.

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