Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell is speaking now. She is again bringing up the issue of free press, drawing on data collected in her report released yesterday, which investigated the scale to which big tech has decimated local news.
She asks Pichai about media losing as much as 30-50% of ad revenue to Google and how that is affecting their platforms. Pichai touts Google’s efforts to help local news and says Google has committed $2bn in licensing over the next three years to news organizations. Google’s yearly revenue is $160bn.
“The message from today’s hearing should be that the free press needs to live and be supported by all of us,” Cantwell said. “We look forward to discussing how we can make sure that they get fair return on their value.”
Nearly two hours into this hearing on Section 230 and Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska asks the first question that is actually about Section 230.
“What if any changes you think should be made to Section 230 to address the specific concerns regarding content moderation you’ve heard this morning?” she said.
Zuckerberg answers that he believes in inncreasing transparency on the content moderation process. He cited Facebook’s quarterly transparency report and said everyone in the industry should be doing it. It seems Fischer ran out of time before the other two executives could answer.
Brian Schatz of Hawaii uses his time to not ask questions of the tech executives but to call out his Republican colleagues for spending the morning bullying tech executives for not doing their bidding.
“This hearing is an embarrassment, we have to call it what it is: a sham,” he said. “This is nonsense, and it’s not going to work this time”.
Nearly two hours into this hearing and we have not really discussed section 230.
Senator Ted Cruz is now here with lots of shouting! He has some very angry questions for Jack Dorsey over the censorship of the New York Post article about Hunter Biden.
He asks Dorsey if he believes Twitter influences elections. Dorsey very plainly answers “no,” which enrages Cruz.
“Who the hell elected you, and who put you in charge of what the American people are allowed to hear?”
Now Senator Richard Blumenthal is up. He says he has been advocating for the reform of Section 230 for “literally 15 years” but that this hearing has thus far been used for his Republican colleagues to bully tech executives for labeling disinformation from the president.
He criticizes Trump’s tweets and even has a few printed out to show the viewers, including one in which the president says we will “learn to live” with Covid, and another in which he says children are “immune” from the disease.
“Frankly, I am appalled that my Republican colleagues are holding this hearing literally days before an election to browbeat tech platforms for labeling misinformation from our president as what it is,” he said.
John Thune, Republican Senator of South Dakota is up now. He is taking issue with a metaphor apparently used by Democrats that lawmakers are “working the ref” when complaining about the censorship of conservative content, asking each executive if they are a referee.
All three say no. Zuckerberg repeats his old “we do not want to be the arbiters of truth” line.
Uh, what does this have to do with Section 230 again?
Democrat Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is now speaking. She said she believes Republicans are politicizing voter suppression ahead of the election – “an issue that should not be a partisan topic”.
Klobuchar said Facebook has made $2bn on political ads since 2018. She asks if these ads are reviewed by humans, Zuckerberg says no. She accuses Facebook of stoking divisiveness, citing studies that say the algorithms push people towards more polarized contentent.
“One of you researchers warned senior executives that our algorithms exploit the human brains attraction to divisiveness,” she said. “The way I look at it more divisiveness more time on the platform or time on the platform, the company makes more money. Does that bother you?”
Zuckerberg says he disagrees with that characterization.
The questioning so far has focused on forcing tech executives to answer to criticisms on the removal of specific content.
It is maybe worth noting that these executives do not personally moderate content.
Cory Gardner, Republican Senator of Colorado is coming out of the gates with a plain question for Dorsey: “Do you believe the Holocaust happened?”
Dorsey, of course, answers yes. Gardner would like to know why Twitter has not, then, removed Holocaust denial tweets from world leaders.
The Twitter CEO said misinformation on Twitter is not banned outright. Only three categories of misinformation are not allowed on the platform:
1) manipulated media
2) public health misinformation, specifically surrounding Covid
3) election interference and voter suppression.
So Holocaust denial, he said, is misleading information but “we don’t have a policy against that type of misleading information”.
Democratic Senator Gary Peters of Michigan is videoing in now, he asks Zuckerberg if he believes Facebook has “a responsibility to offer app users who are on the path to radicalization by violent extremist groups.”
The question is particularly relevant for Peters, whose home state governor was the target of a thwarted kidnapping plot organized on Facebook.
Zuckerberg highlights that white supremacist organizations on Facebook are treated as terrorist organizations and enforced as such.
He said Facebook has created more partnerships with law enforcement to flag cases like that with the governor of Michigan earlier.
Wicker is rambling about which of Trump’s tweets have been labeled as misinformation and demanding to know why.
Dorsey noted that the company has special policies for global leaders, attempting to leave up content that is relevant to voters while labeling falsehoods.
“We want to make sure that we are respecting their right to speak and to publish what they need,” he said.But if there’s a violation of our terms of service, we want to label it.”
Already the hearing has become highly politicized, Republicans focusing on supposed censorship of conservative speech and leaders.
Now the tech CEOs are answering to questioning.
To start, Wicker is getting into specific details, asking Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey why a tweet from Trump casting doubt on mail-in ballots were labeled as potential misinformation while others were not. Specifically he wants to know why a Chinese Communist Party tweet “falsely accusing US military” of causing the coronavirus epidemic was left up for two months.
Dorsey is standing by the decision to flag Trump’s tweet.
“There are certainly things that we can do much faster,” he said. “But generally, we believe that the policy was enforced in a timely manner, and in the right regard.”