The CEOs of Facebook and Twitter have vehemently opposed any changes that would allow the US government to dictate content moderation, saying these platforms are a new industry and should have a different regulatory model.
While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, along with the lawmakers, have agreed on the need to make necessary changes in the controversial Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, the two social media heads said they opposed any changes that would allow the government to dictate content moderation.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 generally provides immunity for website publishers from third-party content and says no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.
“Section 230 was developed to allow these technologies to flourish. Early on, if you could sue Twitter or Facebook for content on a Facebook posting or a tweet, and they were liable for what somebody else said or what they felt or did, then the company would have probably never been in existence,” Senator Lindsey Graham said during a Congressional hearing.
“My hope is that we change section 230 to incentivise social media platforms to come up with standards that are transparent and opaque that will allow us to make judgments about their judgments, that the fact-checkers be known, that the community standards, who sets them, what are their biases, and give some direction to these companies because they have almost an impossible task,” he added.
He said the social media giants are literally trying to engage in telling what's reliable and what's not based on cable news commentary or tweets from politicians for average citizens.
Graham said he does not want the government to take over the job of telling America what tweets are legitimate and what is not.
“I don't want the government deciding what content to take up and put down. I think we're all in that category. But when you have companies that have the power of governments, have far more power than traditional media outlets, something has to give,” he asserted.
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held a hearing on Censorship and the 2020 Election, Dorsey acknowledged that there are concerns around how Twitter moderates content and specifically its use of section 230.
“Three weeks ago we proposed three solutions to address the concerns raised, and they all focus on services that decide to moderate or remove content. It could be expansions to section 230, new legislative frameworks or commitment to industry-wide self-regulation best practices,” he said.
“Requiring one moderation process and practices to be published; two, a straightforward process to appeal decisions; and three, best efforts around algorithmic choice are suggestions to address the concerns we all have going forward. And they are all achievable in short order,” Dorsey said.
Responding to a question from Graham, both Dorsey and Zuckerberg said that they support reforming Section 230 but opposed government regulation.
“Completely eliminating Section 230 or prescribing reactionary government speech mandates will neither address concerns nor align with the First Amendment,” Dorsey said.
“Indeed, such actions could have the opposite effect, likely resulting in increased removal of speech, the proliferation of frivolous lawsuits, and severe limitations on our collective ability to address harmful content and protect people online,” he added.
Zuckerberg said that these platforms are a new industry and should have a different regulatory model that is distinct from either the publishing industry of telecom regulators.
“I think it is not the case that we are like a telco and that there are clearly some categories of content whether it''s terrorism or child exploitation that people will expect us to moderate and address but we are also clearly not like a news publisher in that we don't create the content and we don't choose upfront what we publish, we give people a voice to be able to publish things,” Zuckerberg said.
“So I do think that we have responsibilities and it may make sense for there to be liability for some of the content that is on the platform but I don't think that the analogies to these other industries that have been created previously will ever be kind of fully the right way to look at this. I think it deserves indeed its own regulatory framework to get built here,” he asserted.
Senator Richard Blumenthal said that meaningful reform of Section 230, including even possible repeal in large part because their immunity is way too broad and victims of their harms deserve a day in court.
“I intend to bring aggressive and targeted reform to section 230. But I am not, nor should we be on this committee, interested in being a member of the speech police. There are real harms and real victims here,” he asserted.
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