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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to urge lawmakers to build on key internet law

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to urge lawmakers to build on key internet law


Facebook and Twitter took steps to crack down on election-related misinformation.

Angela Lang/CNET

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey plans to tell US lawmakers on Tuesday that Congress should build on a federal law that shields internet companies from liability for user-generated content rather than eliminate it.

In prepared remarks, Dorsey says lawmakers should work with “industry and civil society” to address concerns about the law, which is called Section 230. Some of the potential solutions, he says, include “additions to Section 230, industry-wide self-regulation best practices, or a new legislative framework.”

“Completely eliminating Section 230 or prescribing reactionary government speech mandates will neither address concerns nor align with the First Amendment,” Dorsey says in excerpts of prepared remarks provided by Twitter. “Indeed, such actions could have the opposite effect, likely resulting in increased removal of speech, the proliferation of frivolous lawsuits, and severe limitations on our collective ability to address harmful content and protect people online.”

He will also push back against allegations his platform is biased against conservatives, emphasize that the work Twitter has done to safeguard the elections isn’t done and advocate for giving users more control over the content they see online, Twitter said. Dorsey is scheduled to appear beside Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday in a congressional hearing about allegations of anti-conservative bias and the 2020 US election.

The virtual hearing was hastily called after the social networks slowed the spread of a New York Post article that suggested unproven improprieties involving the son of now President-elect Joe Biden. The move enraged Republicans, who viewed it as an effort to support Biden’s candidacy. Given that their candidate, President Donald Trump, lost his reelection bid, Republicans will likely come out swinging, complaining that the companies harbor an anti-conservative bias, which the firms deny.

The hearing starts at 10 a.m. ET/7 a.m. PT.

The group holding the hearing, the Senate judiciary committee, will also provide another interesting twist to a Capitol Hill proceeding that could be more heated than most. Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat who sits on the committee, has close ties to Silicon Valley and is friendly with Zuckerberg’s No. 2, Sheryl Sandberg. She’s also the vice president-elect, a freshly minted status that likely won’t go unnoticed. 

Read more: Here’s how to watch Zuckerberg’s and Dorsey’s testimony at the Senate.

The proceeding comes nearly three weeks after Zuckerberg, Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai weathered a combative hearing in front of the Senate commerce committee regarding a law that shields internet platforms from liability for most user-generated content. The new hearing, called Breaking the News: Censorship, Suppression, and the 2020 Election, will likely be a fiery sequel.

A growing number of Americans are consuming their news on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. This shift to online news consumption has raised concerns about the health of the media environment, as well as worries about the power that a small group of companies wield over what we see and read. Republicans say the companies are skewed against them and censor their views. Democrats say the companies aren’t doing enough to combat the fact that bad actors have taken advantage of social networks to spread disinformation, misinformation and outright lies.

Zuckerberg will also likely deny he’s censoring content to favor one political party. The executives will probably use the hearing to defend their companies’ handling of misinformation during and after the US election. 

Obviously, the election has put a spotlight on political content, which tends to provoke strong emotions irrespective of your philosophy. Facebook says about 6% of content on the social network is political in nature. 

Twitter hasn’t shared publicly how much of its content is political. The company said last week that it labeled roughly 0.2% of election-related tweets, or 300,000 of them, for including disputed or misleading content in the period before and after the vote. 

Both social networks have grappled with an onslaught of conspiracy theories, as well as false claims about voter fraud and even who won the election. Major news outlets called the presidential race for Biden, the Democratic challenger, more than a week ago. Trump hadn’t conceded as of Monday morning.

Twitter took a tougher stance than Facebook did against election misinformation by limiting the reach of tweets, including some of Trump’s. Both Facebook and Twitter labeled Trump posts that included baseless claims about voter fraud, and directed users to online hubs with authoritative election information. Facebook pulled down a massive user group that falsely alleged Democrats were trying to steal the election, after some members called for violence.

Zuckerberg and Dorsey, already political piñatas, have experience getting smacked by senators. In late October, Dorsey sparred with Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, over Twitter’s decision to block links to the Post that included allegations about Biden’s son Hunter. Twitter said it blocked the links because the article violated rules against sharing hacked materials and personal information. But the company executed a quick about-face and stopped blocking the link. It later tweaked the policy again, developments that Cruz, who sits on the judiciary committee, will likely seize on.

Other notables on the committee include Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who chairs it and is a key ally of the president, and Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican who’s a vocal critic of Facebook and Twitter. Notable Democrats on the committee include Harris, who’s criticized Facebook in the past for not doing enough to combat misinformation, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who represents Minnesota and is being mentioned for positions in the Biden administration.

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