Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey have agreed to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee to discuss Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Their confirmation comes a day after the committee unanimously voted to subpoena their companies, along with Google, to compel them to attend the hearing. While Google has yet to issue a confirmation, a source told Reuters that Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai will be testifying, as well.
Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act shields online platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube from legal repercussions for what their users post. As we said in the past, it’s sort of a get-out-of- jail-free card for companies that heavily rely on user content, and losing its protections could lead to heavy-handed moderation.
Over the past months, politicians from both sides have been taking steps to change Section 230, arguing that the internet has changed considerably since it was approved. The President signed an executive order proposing to limit the protections social media platforms enjoy back in May. A few months later, in July, the administration filed a petition asking the FCC to conjure up rules so that Section 230 can both promote a free flow of ideas while holding platforms accountable at the same time.
The Justice Department also released a proposal to roll back legal protections Section 230 provides to internet platforms. And a Senate bill submitted by a Democratic and a Republican Senator seeks to modernize Section 230, though not by limiting the protections it provides. They simply want to compel online platforms to explain their moderation practices through a readily-available acceptable use policy and to provide detailed takedown reports.
In a tweet confirming Dorsey’s attendance, Twitter’s Public Policy page says the hearing “must be constructive.” The company also said that attempts to erode the CDA provision “threaten the future of online speech and Internet freedoms.”
We’ve made our views clear on reactionary and politicized attempts to erode #Section230. They threaten the future of online speech and Internet freedoms.
Reasoned and productive debate is essential. https://t.co/LlxCiFVBLX
— Twitter Public Policy (@Policy) October 2, 2020
In addition to discussing proposed changes to Section 230, the CEOs are also expected to discuss issues about consumer privacy and media consolidation. The three of them, along with Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, recently testified at a House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee hearing about concerns that tech giants are stifling competition. Just like that time, the executives will testify virtually in front of the committee on October 28th.