Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook recently came under fire at Capitol Hill for their alleged censorship following a story about Hunter Biden’s potential ties to Ukraine and China, in which the companies disabled the accounts of those who shared the story.
The fears and concerns surrounding tech censorship aren’t new or partisan either, as a 2018 Pew Poll revealed that “seven-in-ten Americans think it likely that social media companies intentionally censor political views they find objectionable.”
Moreover, Project Veritas exposed current and former employees of Twitter employing “shadow-banning” techniques on conservatives, with one former staffer saying that:
“[Twitter is] trying to ‘down rank’… sh***y people to not show up, we’re working on [that] right now.”
And, just today, President Donald Trump expressed his dissatisfaction with tech censorship on Twitter, stating:
“Why isn’t Biden corruption trending number one on Twitter? Biggest world story, and nowhere to be found. There is no “trend”, only negative stories that Twitter wants to put up. Disgraceful! Section 230”
As such, the recent appearance of Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook CEO), Jack Dorsey (Twitter CEO) and Sundar Pichai (Google CEO) at Capitol Hill was the culmination of years of alleged misconduct by the platforms.
The discussion centred around the legitimacy and efficacy of Section 230, which is also known as the Communications Decency Act. Section 230 protects social media platforms from liability for user-posted content, and allows the companies to operate in a grey area between being a publisher and a platform.
If big tech companies were to be considered platforms, they wouldn’t have the editorial control that they currently possess now. If they were to be considered publishers, they would maintain their editorial control but would become liable for what appears on their platform. Currently, they can both editorialize and censor, and avoid liability in the process.
One particularly fiery exchange amid the hearings came from Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who posed this question to the Twitter CEO: “Mr. Dorsey who the hell elected you and put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report and what the American people are allowed to hear, and why do you persist in behaving as a Democratic super PAC silencing views to the contrary of your political beliefs?”
In response, Jack Dorsey rebuffed the claim, saying “we’re not doing that,” but went on to agree that the company needs to “earn trust more, we realize more accountability is needed. I hear the concerns.”
The tech giants are scheduled to appear again before the Senate Judiciary Committee on November 17th.