Facebook and Twitter defended their handling of US election misinformation at a heated congressional hearing on Tuesday during which a key senator attacked the platforms as the “ultimate publisher” of political news.
At the second hearing in less than a month, social media came under fire from both left and right for handling political content during a bitter US presidential campaign.
Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testified remotely at the meeting that discussed “censorship and suppression of news articles” and the platforms “handling of the 2020 elections”.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Judiciary Committee hearing, warned CEOs that new regulations are needed to ensure that social media giants are held accountable for decisions about removing, filtering, or allowing content.
“It seems like you are the ultimate editor,” said Graham at the opening, when it came to both platforms’ decision to limit the circulation of an article in the New York Post alleging grievances involving the son President-elect Joe Biden was involved in uncovering the campaign.
“When companies have government power (and) far more power than traditional media, something has to give.”
Graham said the law known as Section 230, which grants immunity to online services for content posted by others, “needs to be changed”.
Megaphone for untruths
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal also called for Section 230 reform while reprimanding corporations for its inadequate action against political misinformation from President Donald Trump.
“The president used this megaphone to spread vicious lies to overthrow the will of the voters,” said Blumenthal.
Blumenthal said the social media companies have “a power that goes well beyond the robber barons of the last gilded age” and “has benefited enormously from mining data on our private lives and promoting hate speech and voter suppression.”
Republican Senator Mike Lee, meanwhile, denounced what he calls “cases where your platforms have a very strong partisan approach rather than a neutral approach to election-related moderation … just days before the election”.
On the other hand, Blumenthal said that “Facebook apparently has a record of how to create accommodation and give in to conservative pressures”.
Democrat Dianne Feinstein questioned the adequacy of Twitter’s labeling of unverified tweets, such as Trump’s calling for an election victory.
“Is that label enough to keep the tweets from being damaged if the tweet is still visible and incorrect?” asked the California Senator.
Both Dorsey and Zuckerberg said they were open to reforms in Section 230, but warned that the platforms should not be treated as “publishers” or traditional media.
“We have to be very careful and thoughtful about changes. If we go in one direction, new competitors and new startups can get out of hand,” said Dorsey.
“Another way could create a demand for the possible amount of resources to deal with. Another way could lead to even more blockage of votes … I think we can build on (section) 230.”
Defend the filters
Both CEOs defended their efforts to contain harmful misinformation during the election campaign.
“We have strengthened our enforcement against militias, conspiracy networks and other groups to prevent them from using our platform to organize violence or unrest in the post-election period,” said Zuckerberg.
He said Facebook removed false claims about election terms and displayed warnings on more than 150 million pieces of content flagged by independent fact checkers.
Both CEOs said they would investigate the spread of misinformation in elections and allow independent scholars to conduct similar research.
Meanwhile, Dorsey said Twitter filtering was not a result of bias, despite claims by conservatives to the contrary.
When it comes to content filtering, “all decisions are made without political considerations, party affiliation or political ideology,” Dorsey said in his testimony.
“Our Twitter rules are not based on ideology or specific beliefs. We strongly believe in being impartial and we strive to enforce our Twitter rules fairly.”
Both platforms have begun to narrow the reach of many of Trump’s tweets, especially those where the president rejected his election defeat or questioned the integrity of the voting process.
Twitter and Facebook have come under pressure to clean up the election-related misinformation that many have viewed as harmful, while also tackling allegations of repression of certain political views.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and posted from a syndicated feed.)