Facebook, Twitter and Google CEOs have faced questions from the Senate during a hearing this week. As reported by the BBC the hearing focused on Section 230 and what firms can be sued for based on what goes online.
The tensions between big tech firms and the government have run high for quite some time now. Things have escalated even further in the run-up to the election.
Most recently Twitter and Facebook CEOs received subpoenas over their actions to take down a New York Times article. This separate government hearing could cause even more rifts between big tech firms and the government going forwards.
Facebook and other social media firms have also become more active in trying to curb the spread of misinformation. In the run-up to the election, Mark Zuckerberg’s company has taken down a network of accounts.
In this most recent hearing, big tech CEOs faced over three and a half hours of questioning. Many politicians raised concerns that the “sweeping immunity” companies’ receive from legal action leads to bad behavior.
Big tech CEOs face questions from Senate
Currently, firms cannot be sued over what their users post online or what content the company decides to take down. Senators expressed concerns that this acted as a bit of a loophole for big tech firms.
Prof Fiona Scott Morton, of Yale University, explained the issue. She said section 230 “allows digital businesses to let users post things but then not be responsible for the consequences”.
Initially, Mark Zuckerberg was unable to connect to the meeting to testimony. This caused some amusement amongst those in attendance.
However, when he did give testimony the Facebook CEO said he supported changes to the rule “to make sure it’s working”.
Originally, section 230 aimed to prevent internet providers from facing legal action. However, now it has turned into a legal loophole for social media giants.
Politicians claim it is now outdated and needs to change. Democrats take issue with the spread of misinformation on the internet. As they believe social media companies should have a responsibility to control it.
Republicans, however, are more concerned with the moderation powers of section 230. They believe it offers too much control to social media companies and should be reigned in.
Big tech CEOs defend Section 230
Twitter boss, Jack Dorsey, however, defended the legal loophole. He said it “is the most important law protecting internet speech.” However, he was questioned about Twitter’s implementation of its removal and labelling of posts.
Zuckerberg also pointed out that the law “helped create the internet as we know it” and aids freedom of expression. Google CEOs, Sundar Pichai told the Senate hearing that “our ability to provide access to a wide range of information is only possible because of existing legal frameworks like section 230.”
It appears that section 230 is under significant threat from both sides of the political divide for different reasons. As a result, making changes could be difficult although both sides want to see something change. One can see this issue rumbling on for some time to come.