Another day, another Congressional hearing on big tech…right?
What made this one unique? This hearing was the first time Congress got to grill Zuckerberg and Dorsey since the election.
Republican lawmakers for the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, titled “Censorship, Suppression, and the 2020 Election,” as a result of taken by the social media platforms against a New York Post story concerning leaks from Joe Biden’s son’s laptop.
When the story was first published in October, Facebook “reduced the article’s distribution” in order to give it time to be fact-checked. Regardless, the link to the New York Post story was still widely shared on the social networking site.
Twitter, however, blocked the link outright and even suspended the Post’s Twitter account. The company later these decisions and changed its rules surrounding leaked material, that its policies were wrong in this scenario. (It should be noted that many New York Post staffers themselves from the Hunter Biden laptop story after it was published.)
So what happened at this latest hearing?
All in all, most of the hearing went as follows about the main topic, content moderation: Democrats want Facebook and Twitter to do more to block misinformation and extremist speech. Republicans want Facebook and Twitter to stop blocking their misinformation and extremist speech.
Unfortunately for the American people, both parties, as proven by the opening exchange between committee chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, think the best way to accomplish what they want is to revoke Section 230.
of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 is basically the law that keeps “free speech” flowing on the internet. It shields platforms from legal liability for content posted by their users. Without Section 230, tech platforms would be forced to be much more restrictive in terms of what type of content they allow to be posted. It would also mean that smaller companies, or even the average blogger, could be held liable for comments made by people posting on their sites.
“Section 230 has to be changed because we can’t get there from here without change,” said Graham.
“Change is going to come,” followed Blumenthal in his remarks. “No question. And I plan to bring aggressive reform to 230.”
Both Zuckerberg and Dorsey conceded that they’d like to see some revisions to Section 230.
Vine, Bannon and other key moments
However, there were a few other interesting moments.
One particularly fascinating exchange was when Sen. Amy Klobuchar asked Jack Dorsey about Facebook’s decision to undermine Twitter’s now-defunct video platform, Vine…with Zuckerberg right there in the same video chat.
In 2018, leaked public documents showed that Zuckerberg personally that Facebook cut off Vine’s ability to connect the app’s users with their Facebook friends. Dorsey described the turn of events as very “challenging” but unfortunately avoided going much further.
Senator Blumenthal pressed Zuckerberg to “commit” to banning President Trump’s former campaign manager and chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, from its platform. In the days following the election, Bannon called for the beheading of FBI Director Chris Wray and Dr. Anthony Fauci in a video syndicated across his social media accounts.
“Senator, no,” answered Zuckerberg. “That’s not what our policies would suggest that we should do in this case.”
Facebook did remove the video, but Zuckerberg insisted that Bannon had not violated enough of the platform’s policies to constitute a ban. In contrast, Twitter Bannon from its platform following his video post.
The Facebook founder and CEO also denied accusations that the company has removed strikes against conservative pages for breaking platform rules and exempted them from certain misinformation policies.
Zuckerberg’s claims are contradicted by multiple reports over the past few months. Internal leaks from the company show that rules were for conservative pages and misinformation labels were in order to avoid claims of anti-conservative bias. Facebook even reportedly an employee who was collecting this evidence to criticize the special treatment given to right-wing Facebook pages.
Speaking of Facebook’s employees, at the hearing, Zuckerberg classified his employees as more “left” than the platform’s user base. Claims like this add credence to the right’s beliefs that Facebook has an anti-conservative bias. However, it’s never mentioned that the people with actual power in the company, namely executives such as its VP of Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan, are not only deeply …they’ve literally worked in Republican administrations.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey took most of the heat from Republican senators, like Ted Cruz, mainly due to the platform’s misinformation policies. Sen. Masha Blackburn grilled Twitter for its prior business relationships with China-based companies like and Alibaba. While the Huawei criticism and anti-Chinese government talking points from Republicans are not new, it seems like the Alibaba rhetoric is a recent addition.
But perhaps the oddest moment of the day was when Lindsey Graham excused himself, forcing the proceedings to take a break just a little over an hour into the hearing.