The CEOs of the three behemoths of information testified for an act that prevents social media websites from being held responsible for content that users post on their platforms.
The right-wing in the United States has often accused social media giants Facebook, Twitter and Google Alphabet Inc. of having a bias against it. This time around, the Conservatives there have gone a step ahead. High-ranking Republicans have accused the trio of outright election interference, saying online platforms are helping Democrats by way of their content moderate decisions.
Republicans have accused the three of outright election interference, saying online platforms are helping Democrats by way of their content moderate decisions.
Facebook’s chief operating officer Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Google Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai are in the dock before the United States Committee of Commerce, Science and Transportation. They were questioned over whether to repeal a section of 1996 Communications Decency Act., a law that protects the companies from legal liability over content that users post on their platforms.
Watch: Twitter, Facebook and Google CEOs testify
Some proofs have been surely found to support claims of the widespread, systematic political bias of social media platforms. But Conservatives’ allegation of bias just a week before the Presidential elections can also be an attempt to influence voters in their favor. Donald Trump, bidding for his re-election, has often spoken against social media sites during his campaign rallies.
Conservatives’ allegation of bias just a week before the Presidential elections can also be an attempt to influence voters.
The other major question is how a law which was passed at a time when Facebook, Twitter and Google, didn’t even exist has become problematic 24 years later. Here are the details – what is the law, the controversy around it, and what social media giants say in their defense.
What is the law and what is controversial about it?
The Communication Decency Act came into existence in 1996, but it’s just one Section 230 that is the bone of contention for social media critics. The section says that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
Watch: Section 230, Explained
To put it in simple words, Section 230 means that social media platforms have no legal obligation for objectionable photos, words or videos that people post on their websites. In terms of the US elections, these companies are not responsible if one person says something objectionable about presidential candidates Donald Trump or Joe Biden on their social media platforms. Or, Twitter can’t be held responsible if some anonymous person on its site claims to be the president of the United States.
Are there some exceptions to Section 230?
There are some posts which can be protected under the law. For e.g. posts that violate criminal laws around child pornography, or intellectual property or copyright statues.
Why didn’t lawmakers keep social media under Section 230?
It’s simple. Social media didn’t exist 24 years back. Social websites came into existence in the early 2000s and Section 230 was also extended to them. But the nature and amount of content at that time was negligible in terms of today. Section 230 focused mainly on bloggers. The law was drafted to save internet service providers from bloggers. Likewise, the law also aimed at saving bloggers from commenting on their posts or writing guest columns for them.
The law was drafted to save internet service providers from bloggers.
Why did lawmakers wake up so late to repeal Section 230?
It’s because the lawmaking process in a country doesn’t have the same pace as the growth of social media. 15 years back, they were not influencing people’s lives. Today, social sites can make or mar the opinion of a common man. Some of them are accused of election meddling. Lawmakers think now is the high time to tighten the noose on social sites.
Was the testimony of social site giants necessary?
The government can make a law on its own, but the hearing did not help social media sites as they claim they are not able to police billions of users on their sites. Sites like Facebook, Google and YouTube have provisions of taking down inappropriate and offensive content, but they have a limit to keep such content in check. The government, however, is not satisfied only with policing. It claims that many of the fake news links make their way to the social sites and can influence voters. Through testimony, people can know the elaborated responses of the government and social sites.
What Trump and Biden say about Section 230?
Trump has already issued an executive order that aims at limiting the protections big tech companies enjoy under Section 230. The President has been long claiming of a conspiracy against him spurred by social media.
Watch: Trump’s call to revoke Section 230
Biden, on the other hand, said in an interview that Section 230 should be revoked since Facebook ‘isn’t merely an internet company, but it is propagating falsehood they know to be false’.