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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testifies virtually Tuesday about social media’s responsibilities in fighting hatred while promoting free speech.


Screenshot by CNET

The CEOs of Facebook and Twitter pushed back yet again against allegations of anti-conservative bias on their sites, as they testified Tuesday before US senators. The executives instead insisted they’re trying to balance safety and free expression. They also said that a key internet law should be revised. 

Facebook grapples with “difficult trade-offs,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, as it tries to do what’s best for the community. “I believe that some of these trade-offs and decisions would be better made through a democratic process,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

See here: How to watch Zuckerberg’s and Dorsey’s testimony at the Senate today

While the CEOs outlined the work they’ve done to safeguard elections, both acknowledged there’s more work to do. They said they welcome regulation but cautioned against changes that could harm smaller tech companies and innovation.

“We are required to help increase the health of the conversation, while at the same time ensuring that as many people as possible can participate,” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies virtually Tuesday that his company takes content moderation seriously.


Screenshot by CNET

Dorsey said Congress should build on Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which shields online publishers from liability for content generated by users. Possible solutions would include “additions to Section 230, industrywide self-regulation best practices, or a new legislative framework,” Dorsey said. 

Zuckerberg said Congress should update Section 230 “to make sure it’s working as intended.”

Republicans scheduled Tuesday’s hearing, titled Breaking the News: Censorship, Suppression, and the 2020 Election, after the social networks slowed the spread of an mid-October New York Post article that suggested unproven improprieties involving the son of now President-elect Joe Biden. The move enraged Republicans, who viewed it as an effort to support Biden’s candidacy. The companies deny the allegations.

Facebook, Twitter and editorial control

Twitter initially blocked users from sharing the New York Post article because it violated the social media company’s rules against sharing hacked materials and personal information. It also locked the New York Post’s account. Twitter later made a series of policy changes, stopped blocking the links and restored the New York Post’s account.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee, suggested that social networks make editorial decisions. 

“What I want to try to find out is if you’re not a newspaper at Twitter or Facebook then why do you have editorial control over the New York Post?” he said.

A growing number of Americans are getting their news on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. This shift to online news consumption has raised concerns about the health of the media environment, as well as worries about the power that a small group of companies wield over what we see and read. Republicans say the companies are skewed against them and censor their views. Democrats say the companies aren’t doing enough to combat the spread of disinformation, misinformation and outright lies.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said that social networks have taken “baby steps” to address this problem. 

“That’s not censorship. That’s moral and civic responsibility,” he said.

Both social networks have grappled with an onslaught of conspiracy theories, as well as false claims about voter fraud and even about who won the election. Major news outlets called the presidential race for Biden, the Democratic challenger, more than a week ago. Trump hadn’t conceded as of Tuesday morning.

Twitter took a tougher stance than Facebook did against election misinformation by limiting the reach of tweets, including some of Trump’s. Both Facebook and Twitter labeled Trump posts that included baseless claims about voter fraud, and directed users to online hubs with authoritative election information. Facebook pulled down a massive user group that falsely alleged Democrats were trying to steal the election, after some members called for violence.

The election has put a spotlight on political content. Facebook says about 6% of content on the social network is political in nature. The social network added warning labels to more than 150 million pieces of content after they were debunked by fact checkers.

Twitter hasn’t shared publicly how much of its content is political. The company said last week that it labeled roughly 0.2% of election-related tweets, or 300,000 of them, for including disputed or misleading content in the period before and after the vote. 

Tuesday’s hearing comes nearly three weeks after Zuckerberg, Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai weathered a combative hearing in front of the Senate commerce committee about Section 230.

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