Republicans accused Facebook and Twitter of meddling in the election to harm President Donald Trump by censoring conservatives with warnings on GOP tweets about mail-in balloting.
Democrats criticized the companies for failing to rein in Trump’s efforts to delegitimize the election and the rise of hate speech and white nationalism and took aim at their GOP colleagues for putting on a “political sideshow” to browbeat two of the nation’s leading technology CEOs.
The bipartisan grilling from lawmakers before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday – the second virtual appearance from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey in less than three weeks – reflected growing and collective ire about “Big Tech.”
The panel’s chairman, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, opened the hearing with a call to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
The committee is moving forward with a bill from Graham and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., called the EARN IT Act, which would strip away some of the decades-old legal protections that shield tech companies from liability for what users post on their platforms.
“I don’t want the government to take over the job of telling America what tweets are legitimate and what are not,” Graham said in his opening remarks. “But when you have companies that have the power of government, have far more power than traditional media outlets, something has to give.”
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Graham took particular exception to Facebook and Twitter’s decision to throttle the spread of a New York Post article about Hunter Biden’s business dealings in the run-up to the election.
“You’re the ultimate editor,” he said.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, also took issue with the way Facebook and Twitter police content.
“There are instances in which your platforms are taking a very distinctively partisan approach, and not a neutral one, to election content moderation,” he said.
Zuckerberg and Dorsey defended using labels to fact-check posts about the election, arguing that, though their platforms have made some enforcement mistakes, their policies are fair.
“We are facing something that feels impossible,” Dorsey said. “We are required to help increase the health of the public conversation while at the same time ensuring that as many people as possible can participate.”
Both CEOs expressed willingness to work with lawmakers to reform Section 230.
“We are well overdue,” Zuckerberg said in his opening remarks. “We would benefit from clearer guidance from elected officials.”
The broadsides from the left also intensified during Tuesday’s hearing. Blumenthal threatened to break up Facebook by peeling off Instagram and WhatsApp.
“You have built terrifying tools of persuasion and manipulation, with power far exceeding the robber barons of the last Gilded Age,” Blumenthal said. “You have made a huge amount of money by strip-mining data about our private lives and promoting hate speech and voter suppression.”
He also accused Facebook of caving to pressure from conservatives and backing off increased enforcement of dangerous misinformation and voter suppression tactics before two January runoffs in Georgia that will determine who controls the Senate. Zuckerberg and Dorsey pledged to take vigorous action for the two special elections in Georgia.
Trump continues to promote unsubstantiated claims of voting fraud and to contest Joe Biden’s victory on social media. Graham and other Republican lawmakers are supporting the president even as federal and state officials declare the election was the most secure in U.S. history.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called on Facebook and Twitter to produce data showing whether they disproportionately flag or censor Republicans. Researchers have found no evidence of systematic suppression of conservative voices or viewpoints. The companies deny any politically motivated censorship.
The GOP majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee threatened Dorsey and Zuckerberg with subpoenas if they didn’t appear voluntarily for Tuesday’s hearing. It was originally billed as an indictment of how the companies handled the New York Post article but focused instead more broadly on their handling of the election.
This is a developing story.