The CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter on Wednesday faced the heat from Republican senators six days ahead of the US Presidential elections in the US. Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai and Jack Dorsey testified before a US Senate Commerce Committee on a range of issues related to moderation of content on social media platforms and were questioned for abusing power over political speech.
Ted Cruz, Republican from Texas speaking about the moderation policies said, "The three witnesses we have before this committee today collectively pose, I believe, the single greatest threat to free speech in America and the greatest threat to free and fair elections."
"Who the hell elected you and put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report?" Cruz asked Twitter's Dorsey. Dorsey, in response to Cruz's questioning, said Twitter cannot influence elections because there are other additional sources of information.
Facebook and Twitter recently limited the online reach of a New York Post story about the family of former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
"The time has come for that free pass to end," said Senator Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican who chairs the panel, referring to Section 230. Dorsey was also questioned about what Wicker called Twitter's double standard for labeling posts from different world leaders, saying he has collected dozens of examples of unequal application of the company's policies, Bloomberg noted. Dorsey said real-world harm is one of the factors Twitter considers when deciding whether to put a warning on a specific tweet.
"As we think about enforcement, we consider the severity of offline harm, and we act as quickly as we can," Dorsey said. "We have taken action on tweets from leaders all around the world, including the president. And we did take action on that tweet, because we saw the confusion that might occur, and we labeled it accordingly."
US President Donald Trump in a tweet during the hearing wrote, "The USA doesn't have Freedom of the Press, we have Suppression of the Story or just plain Fake News. So much has been learned in the last two weeks about how corrupt our Media is, and now Big Tech, maybe even worse. Repeal Section 230!"
Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee also questioned Dorsey, Pichai and Zuckerberg to determine whether Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act needs to be updated. Section 230 grants online platforms some legal immunity from the content users post.
Zuckerberg revealed that Facebook had 35,000 content moderators working around the US elections and that the company had spent upwards of three or more billion dollars. In comparison, Pichai said Google spends at least $4 billion on a team of over 10,000 moderators.
"I'm worried about the potential of increased civil unrest, making sure that those groups can't organize on Facebook may cut off some legitimate uses, but I think they will also preclude the greater potential for organising any harm," Zuckerberg said.