At Senate hearing, Dorsey becomes target of GOP ire

WASHINGTON: A US Senate hearing to reform an internet law and hold tech companies accountable for how they moderate content quickly turned into a political scuffle. Lawmakers are split on ways to hold Big Tech accountable under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — which protects companies from liability over content posted by users but also lets the firms shape political discourse.
The CEOs of Twitter Inc, Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google called the law crucial to free expression on the internet. A little over an hour into the hearing, the conversation turned into a heated exchange between senators of both parties.
Senator Ted Cruz went after Twitter’s Jack Dorsey after the CEO said Twitter has no influence over elections. “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,” Cruz said. Ahead of the hearing, the senator released a picture on Twitter titled “Free Speech showdown Cruz vs Dorsey” that showed him and Dorsey pitted against each other.
Democratic Senator Brian Schatz said he did not have any questions, calling the hearing “nonsense”. Top Democrat on the panel, Senator Maria Cantwell, said the hearing would have been better if held after the election.
President Trump, who alleges the companies’ stifle conservative voices and Republican lawmakers, sent a flurry of tweets as the hearing continued. “Repeal Section 230!” Trump tweeted. Separately, Senator Josh Hawley took a jab at Dorsey. “This level of idiocy confirms the widespread impression that Jack’s primary food source is weed.” Twitter responded: “There’s nothing in the (Hawley) tweet that deserves a response.”
Twitter’s Dorsey warned the committee that eroding the foundation of Section 230 could significantly hurt how people communicate online. Sundar Pichai said Google operates without political bias and that doing otherwise would be against its business interests. The panel was unable to establish contact with Facebook Inc’s Mark Zuckerberg and declared a short recess. He appeared shortly after and said: “I was having a hard time connecting myself.” Zuckerberg said he supports changing the law but also warned that tech platforms are likely to censor more to avoid legal risks if Section 230 is repealed. All three CEOs agreed the companies should be held liable if the platforms act as a publisher.
Republican Senator Roger Wicker, who chairs the committee, said it was important to shield companies from liability without giving them the ability to censor content they dislike. “The time has come for that free pass to end,” he said. He also criticised the companies’ decision to block stories from the New York Post that made claims about Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son.

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