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Does Section 230’s Sweeping Immunity Enable Big Tech Bad Behavior?
October 28, 2020
253 Russell Senate Office Building
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled, “Does Section 230’s Sweeping Immunity Enable Big Tech Bad Behavior?,”at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, October 28. The hearing will examine whether Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has outlived its usefulness in today’s digital age. 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. The hearing will provide an opportunity to discuss the unintended consequences of Section 230’s liability shield and how best to preserve the internet as a forum for open discourse.
Mr. Jack Dorsey, Chief Executive Officer, Twitter
Mr. Sundar Pichai, Chief Executive Officer, Alphabet Inc., Google
Mr. Mark Zuckerberg, Chief Executive Officer, Facebook
Hearing Details:
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
10:00 a.m.
Full Committee Hearing
This hearing will take place in the Russell Senate Office Building 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on http://www.commerce.senate.gov.
In order to maintain physical distancing as advised by the Office of the Attending Physician, seating for credentialed press will be limited throughout the course of the hearing. Due to current limited access to the Capitol complex, the general public is encouraged to view this hearing via the live stream.
*Note: All witnesses will participate remotely
. https://www.commerce.senate.gov/services/files/894758B6-F55E-471D-904F-480FCD9E4D98

Kamala Harris’ fellow Tamil Brahmin, Sundar Pichai, panders to US Senator Wicker (Mississippi) by mentioning Mississippi in his opening statement: https://www.commerce.senate.gov/services/files/894758B6-F55E-471D-904F-480FCD9E4D98 We bet that many rural Mississippians, including Sundar Pichai’s “Mississippi Barber” struggle to get online. Maybe he meant Haley Barbour of Mississippi?

Google having announced (2019) an Operations Center in Mississippi (suburban Memphis, Tenn.) and the US Senator from Mississippi overseeing the hearing is really bad optics.

No mention of Paul Singer’s role in controlling Twitter and how the more visible push toward censorship started in the spring as he took control: https://miningawareness.wordpress.com/2020/10/15/vulture-capitalist-paul-singer-elliott-management-behind-twitter-censor-locking-of-ny-post-hunter-biden-articles

Majority Statement

Chairman Roger Wicker

We have convened this morning to continue the work of this Committee to ensure that the internet remains a free and open space, and that the laws that govern it are sufficiently up to date. The internet is a great American success story, thanks in large part to the regulatory and legal structure our government put in place. But we cannot take that success for granted. The openness and freedom of the internet are under attack.
Soon we will hear from the CEOs of three of the most prominent internet platforms: Facebook, Google, and Twitter. Our witnesses include:
Mr. Jack Dorsey, of Twitter;
Mr. Sundar Pichai, of Alphabet Incorporated and its subsidiary, Google; and
Mr. Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook.
On October 1st, this committee voted on a bipartisan and unanimous basis to approve the issuance of subpoenas. After discussions among representatives of the companies and the committee, the witnesses agreed to attend the hearing voluntarily and remotely. There is strong agreement on both sides of the aisle that hearing from these witnesses is important to the deliberations before this committee, including deliberations on what legislative reforms are necessary to ensure a free and open internet.

For almost 25 years, the preservation of internet freedom has been the hallmark of a thriving digital economy in the United States. This success has largely been attributed to a light-touch regulatory framework and to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – often referred to as the “26 words that created the internet.”

There is little dispute that Section 230 played a critical role in the early development and growth of online platforms. Section 230 gave content providers protection from liability to remove and moderate content that they or their users consider to be “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable.” This liability shield has been pivotal in protecting online platforms from endless and potentially ruinous lawsuits. But it has also given these internet platforms the ability to control, stifle, and even censor content in whatever manner meets their respective “standards.” The time has come for that free pass to end.

After 24 years of Section 230 being the law of the land, much has changed. The internet is no longer an emerging technology. The companies before us today are no longer scrappy startups operating out of a garage or a dorm room. They are now among the world’s largest corporations, wielding immense power in our economy, culture, and public discourse – immense power. The applications they have created are connecting the world in unprecedented ways, far beyond what lawmakers could have imagined three decades ago.

These companies are controlling the overwhelming flow of news and information that the public can share and access.

One noteworthy example occurred just two weeks ago after our subpoenas were unanimously approved; the New York Post – the Countries fourth largest newspaper – ran a story revealing communications between Hunter Biden and a Ukrainian official. The report alleged that Hunter Biden facilitated a meeting with his father, Joe Biden, who was then the Vice President of the United States. Almost immediately, both Twitter and Facebook took steps to block or limit access to the story. Facebook, according to its Policy Communications Manager, began “reducing its distribution on [the] platform” pending a third-party fact check. Twitter went beyond that, blocking all users — including the House Judiciary Committee — from sharing the article on feeds and through direct messages. Twitter even locked the New York Post’s account entirely, claiming the story included “hacked materials” and was “potentially harmful.”

It is worth noting that both Twitter and Facebook’s aversion to hacked materials has not always been so stringent. For example, when the President’s tax returns were illegally leaked, neither company acted to restrict access to that information.

Similarly, the now-discredited Steele dossier was widely shared without fact checking or disclaimers. This apparent double standard would be appalling under normal circumstances. But the fact that selective censorship is occurring in the midst of the 2020 election cycle dramatically amplifies the power wielded by Facebook and Twitter.

Google recently generated its own controversy when it was revealed that the company threatened to cut off several conservative websites, including the Federalist, from their ad platform. Make no mistake, for sites that rely heavily on advertising revenue for their bottom line, being blocked from Google’s services – or “demonetized” – can be a death sentence.

According to Google, the offense of these websites was hosting user-submitted comment sections that included objectionable content. But Google’s own platform, YouTube, hosts user-submitted comment sections for every video uploaded. It seems that Google is far more zealous in policing conservative sites than its own YouTube platform for the same types of offensive and outrageous language.

It is ironic, that when the subject is net neutrality technology companies, including Facebook, Google, and Twitter, have warned about the grave threat of blocking or throttling the flow of information on the internet. Meanwhile, these same companies are actively blocking and throttling the distribution of content on their own platforms and are using protections under 30 to do it. Is it any surprise that voices on the right are complaining about hypocrisy or, even worse, anti-democratic election interference.

These recent incidents are only the latest in a long trail of censorship and suppression of conservative voices on the internet. Reasonable observers are left to wonder whether big tech firms are obstructing the flow of information to benefit one political ideology or agenda.

My concern is that these platforms have become powerful arbiters of what is true and what content users can access. The American public gets little insight into the decision-making process when content is moderated, and users have little recourse when they are censored or restricted. I hope we can all agree that the issues the Committee will discuss today are ripe for thorough examination and action.

I have introduced legislation to clarify the intent of Section 230’s liability protections and increase the accountability of companies who engage in content moderation. The Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act would make important changes to “right-size” the liability shield and make clear what type of content moderation is protected. This legislation would address the challenges we have discussed while still leaving fundamentals of Section 230 in place.

Although some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have characterized this as a purely partisan exercise, there is strong bipartisan support for reviewing Section 230. In fact, both presidential candidates Trump and Biden have proposed repealing Section 230 in its entirety – a position I have not yet embraced. I hope we can focus today’s discussion on the issues that affect all Americans. Protecting a true diversity of viewpoints and free discourse is central to our way of life. I look forward to hearing from today’s witnesses about what they are doing to promote transparency, accountability, and fairness in their content moderation processes. And I thank each of them for cooperating with us in the scheduling of this testimony.
I now turn to my friend and Ranking Member, Senator Cantwell, for her opening remarks.

Read statements https://www.commerce.senate.gov/2020/10/does-section-230-s-sweeping-immunity-enable-big-tech-bad-behavior#

Funny thing that Cantwell doesn’t mention this in her concerns about foreign interference in elections: https://miningawareness.wordpress.com/2020/09/24/bipartisan-us-senate-intel-report-warned-that-russian-operatives-used-blm-in-2016-information-warfare-campaign/