The CEOs of three of the world’s largest tech companies have been confronted over the issue of online content, just days before the presidential election.
Google’s Sundar Pichai, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg appeared before the US Senate to discuss whether they are doing enough to stem the flow of misinformation, particularly ahead of the election on the 3rd of November.
Democratic senators argued that widespread misinformation is currently going unchallenged across social media, which some fear could help sway the election result.
However, Republicans used the opportunity to raise issues with what they say constitutes ‘censorship’ and the stifling of conservative voices. Many Republicans argue that social media giants such as Twitter are using their platforms to take sides in ideological debates and restrict free speech.
In particular, the spotlight landed on Twitter’s handling of a recent article in the New York Post about Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, which the firm initially restricted.
US Senate Grilling
Commenting, Senator Ted Cruz (R, Texas) said: “Mr Dorsey, who the hell elected you and put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report and what the American people are allowed to hear?”
President Donald Trump has also accused Twitter of “stifling free speech” in the past after it included fact-checking links on a series of his misleading tweets, with the President claiming the company was “interfering in the 2020 presidential election.”
Some senators, as well as the President, have previously called for changes to, or the removal of, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which protects large tech firms from responsibility for the content on their platforms.
Speaking to the BBC’s Tech Tent podcast, Professor Fiona Scott Morton of Yale University said the law “allows digital businesses to let users post things but then not be responsible for the consequences, even when they’re amplifying or dampening that speech.”
However, Dorsey commented that Section 230 of the Act is “the most important law protecting internet speech” and noted that its abolition would “remove speech from the internet”.
Many of the Democratic senators present called the Wednesday hearing a “political ploy” by Republicans. Senator Richard Blumenthal told the committee “I’ve been an advocate of reform of Section 230 for literally 15 years.
“But frankly I am appalled that my Republican colleagues are holding this hearing literally days before an election when they seem to want to bully and browbeat the platforms here to try and tilt them towards President Trump’s behaviour.
“The timing seems inexplicable,” he said.
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Zuckerberg and Pichai, along with Amazon leader Jeff Bezos and Apple CEO Tim Cook, previously faced tough questions at the US Senate in July over their alleged domination of the tech market.
At the time, the senators discussed considered tougher regulations to crack down on large tech firms, with probes underway in both the US and Europe and staunch critics calling for certain firms to be broken up.