The CEOs of Twitter and Facebook on Tuesday defended their safeguards against disinformation in the presidential election, and promised Congress they would take vigorous action for two special elections in Georgia that could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee they have strong programs in place to protect their platforms from being used to disseminate falsehoods or discourage people from voting in the Georgia elections.
“You have an immense civic and moral responsibility,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, told the executives. He said the actions the companies took to slow the spread of disinformation in the contest between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden were constructive. But Blumenthal said he was concerned they could let their guard down for the Georgia elections and fail to act against dangerous information.
“You’ve tried to slow its spread. That’s not censorship,” he said.
But Republican senators, including Committee Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham, revived complaints of censorship and anti-conservative bias against the social media platforms and pushed for stripping away some of the protections that have shielded tech companies from legal responsibility for what people post.
“I think there’s Republican and Democratic concern about the power that’s being used by social media outlets to tell us what we can see and what we can’t, what’s true and what’s not,” Graham said at the start of the hearing.
Democrats also support curbing the long-held legal shield for tech companies, though for different reasons. They have focused their concern on hate speech and incitement on social media platforms that can spawn violence. President-elect Biden has heartily endorsed restricting the legal immunity for social media platforms under Section 230 of a 1996 telecommunications law.
Graham and other prominent Republican senators have refused to knock down Trump’s unfounded claims of voting irregularities and fraud, even as misinformation disputing Biden’s victory has flourished online.
Graham, a close Trump ally, has publicly urged: “Do not concede, Mr. President. Fight hard.”
Twitter and Facebook have both slapped a misinformation label on some content from Trump, most notably his assertions linking voting by mail to fraud. On Monday, Twitter flagged Trump’s tweet proclaiming “I won the Election!” with this note: “Official sources called this election differently.”
This is disturbing, as Zuckerberg seems to not have a handle on his own platform, or his responsibilities as CEO.