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The CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter released prepared remarks on Tuesday that warn against repealing Section 230, the statute that protects the social networks from liability for their users' posts. The remarks were released in advance of Wednesday's hearing with the Senate Commerce Committee.
The CEOs have been called in front of the committee because lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are concerned about how each company moderates, or sometimes fails to moderate, content posted by users.
The committee will examine Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a statute that has provided tech platforms immunity from legal liability for their users' posts since the late 1990s. In recent years, as tech companies face more scrutiny over their content moderation practices and ad-driven business models, the law has attracted bipartisan criticism for its broad protections.
Twitter CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey gestures while interacting with students at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in New Delhi on November 12, 2018.
Prakash Singh | AFP | Getty Images
Twitter has come under fire for, among other things, how it handled its decision to block an unverified New York Post story claiming to contain a "smoking gun" email related to presidential candidate Joe Biden. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey apologized for blocking the story URLs earlier this month. It has also been criticized for muting or blocking tweets that contain misinformation.
Dorsey argues in his prepared remarks Section 230 has allowed small companies to scale up to compete against established, global companies and eroding it could destroy how we communicate online. He says only the largest, well-funded tech companies will survive.
Weakening or removing Section 230 will also lead to more speech removal on social media networks, Dorsey argues, and will further limit the networks' ability to address harmful content.
Dorsey says Twitter will seek to earn trust from users by increasing transparency around content moderation policies, instituting fair processes such as an appeals method, giving users more control over the algorithms that govern their experience, and protecting user privacy.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg argues the government should take a more active role in regulating tech companies.
He says in his prepared remarks that big tech companies shouldn't get to make big decisions on harmful content, privacy, election integrity and data portability. It's the same stance he's taken since March 2019, when he wrote an op-ed calling for Congress to come in and regulate Facebook.
Without Section 230, platforms could face liability for even basic moderation, Zuckerberg warns. He says Congress should update Section 230 so that it works better but acknowledged the current debate around Section 230 shows people are upset with how it currently works.
"We believe in giving people a voice, even when that means defending the rights of people we disagree with," Zuckerberg says. "Free expression is central to how we move forward together as a society. We've seen this in the fight for democracy around the world, and in movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. Section 230 allows us to empower people to engage on important issues like these—and to provide space where non-profits, religious groups, news organizations, and businesses of all sizes can reach people."
Zuckerberg will also tell lawmakers that Facebook supports local journalism. "Facebook also supports our democracy by supporting journalism—particularly local journalism, which is vital for helping people be informed and engaged citizens." He highlights that Facebook has made a $300 million commitment to help publishers build readership and subscription models.
Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai argues in his prepared remarks that the internet has been one of the world's most important equalizers, allowing people to post their opinions online no matter what those opinions are.
He says "the same low barriers to entry also make it possible for bad actors to cause harm" but that Section 230 is fundamental to allowing Google to provide access to a wide range of information and viewpoints.
It has also been "foundational to US leadership in the tech sector," Pichai says.
"As you think about how to shape policy in this important area, I would urge the Committee to be very thoughtful about any changes to Section 230 and to be very aware of the consequences those changes might have on businesses and consumers."