Republican senator Ted Cruz tore into Jack Dorsey Wednesday during a hearing on Big Tech’s handling of politics on their platforms as he bashed the Twitter CEO for censoring tweets linking to the New York Post story revealing the contents of Hunter Biden’s damaging hard drive.
‘Mr. Dorsey, who the hell elected you and put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report and what the American people are allowed to hear? And why do you persist in behaving as a Democratic Super PAC silencing views to the contrary of your political beliefs?’ Cruz shouted as he joined in remotely for a hearing on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The law allows tech platforms not to be sued for what their users post.
The hearing was called by Republican senators in the wake of Twitter stopping tweets linking to the story about Hunter Biden, and Facebook limiting its users’ ability to post it. It was titled: ‘Does Section 230’s Sweeping Immunity Enable Big Tech Bad Behavior?’
Republicans say conservative viewpoints are being censored by big tech platforms and summoned Dorsey, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai for the hearing – which Democrats said was electioneering intended to elevate claims about Joe Biden being linked to corruption.
At the start of the hearing Dorsey acknowledged that conservatives do not think Twitter is ‘acting in good faith’ and said he wanted to become more transparent to address their feelings.
As the hearing continued, Donald Trump live-tweeted his reaction to it, accusing ‘big tech’ of ‘not covering Biden corruption’ and demanding: ‘Repeal Section 230.’
That move would upend the internet, according to the tech CEOs, with Google’s Pichai warning that its protections were ‘foundational’ and Dorsey saying that repealing it would ‘end free speech on the internet,’ not end censorship.
Republicans have increasingly turned their anger on Twitter and to a lesser extent Facebook over the platforms’ handling of Trump’s tweets, some of which have been labeled as misinformation and even removed entirely.
They have also slammed Google for ‘demonetizing’ conservative website The Federalist, while Democrats have raised concern about all three of the platforms allowing conspiracy theories, particularly QAnon, to flourish and not stopping foreign election interference.
The hearing, however, faltered briefly at the beginning when Zuckerberg could not log on. It was briefly adjourned after the Republican chairman, Roger Wicker, said: ‘Members should be advised at this point that we are unable to make contact with Mark Zuckerberg. We are told by Facebook staff that he is alone and attempting to make contact with this hearing.’ He connected a minute later.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey admitted Wednesday that conservatives ‘don’t trust we are acting in good faith’ as Republicans said ‘conservative voices’ are disproportionately censored and stifled by Big Tech
Confrontation: Ted Cruz went after Jack Dorsey accusing him of running his company as a ‘Democratic Super PAC’ for censoring the Hunter Biden emails
Dorsey, along with Facebook’s Mark Zuckrberg (left) and Google CEO Sundar Pichai (right) were summoned to Capitol Hill Wednesday for a hearing on how they handle political content on their websites, and argued that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is crucial to allowing free expression on the internet
Live tweeting: Donald Trump offered live commentary on the hearing as it unfolded and lashed out at Twitter claiming it was censoring a Fox News interview with a former business partner of Hunter Biden, Tony Bobulisnki, who alleged that Joe Biden was aware of ‘corruption’
TED CRUZ TO JACK DORSEY: ‘YOUR ANSWERS ARE ABSURD’
Ted Cruz, the junior Texas senator and a staunch Donald Trump ally, claimed Dorsey and the other tech CEOs are trying to police what Americans read and post online and influence the outcome of the election.
The New York Post story revealed some of what was found on Hunter Biden’s intercepted hard drive, which he left at a computer repair shop.
Censored: The New York Post’s story about Hunter Biden was banned from being distributed by Twitter
Facebook also limited the story from being shared, citing its policy for slowing the spread of potential ‘misinformation.’ It said that it was going to be factchecked, although no such factcheck has become public after more than two weeks. The newspaper remains locked out of its Twitter account.
Twitter took a more aggressive stance with users who tweeted out the article, freezing the accounts of those who shared the link until they deleted the tweet containing the Post article.
Cruz noted in a tweet that up until Wednesday afternoon, he could not try to tweet the link without receiving an error message from Twitter claiming the tweet could not be sent because it contained a link deemed ‘potentially harmful.’
The link can now be posted on Twitter.
The Post reported earlier this month that emails showed Hunter Biden set up meetings between his father, who was vice president at the time, with executives of a Ukrainian energy company.
It also contained a slew of other information that could be seen as damaging to Biden’s election chances. Subsequent stories
Dorsey said that the ban on the Post’s Twitter account will be lifted if they delete their original tweet which he said contained private information – an apparent reference to email address contained in the original article.
As Cruz pushed Dorsey on whether he believes his social media site influences the election in any way, the Twitter CEO defended Section 230 protections.
‘Mr. Dorsey, does Twitter have the ability to influence elections?’ Cruz asked.
‘No, we are one part of a spectrum of communication channels that people have,’ Dorsey countered.
‘So you’re testifying to this committee right now that Twitter, when it silences people, when it censors people, when it blocks political speech – that has no impact on elections,’ Cruz sarcastically chuckled.
‘People have choice of other communications channels,’ Dorsey argued.
‘Not if they don’t hear information, if you don’t think you have the power to influence elections, why do you block anything?’ the senator said.
‘Well we have policies that are focused on making sure that more voices on the platform are possible. We see a lot of abuse and harassment.’
‘Alright, Mr. Dorsey, I find your opening answers absurd on their face,’ Cruz said before moving on.
WE THROTTLED HUNTER’S EMAILS BECAUSE FBI WARNED ABOUT RUSSIAN DISINFORMATION SAYS ZUCKERBERG
When Zuckerberg was asked about Facebook also limiting the reach of the New York Post story on Hunter and Joe Biden, he revealed that a warning from the FBI contributed to the decision.
The Facebook chief executive told lawmakers that the FBI warned ahead of time to be on the lookout for hack-and-leak operations before the November 3 presidential election – and Zuckerberg climbed Russia, Iran and China to attempt to use the social media platform to run disinformation campaigns.
‘One of the threats that the FBI has alerted our companies … to was the possibility of a hack and leak operation in the days or weeks leading up to this election,’ Zuckerberg said.
‘So you had both public testimony from from the FBI, (inaudible) in private meetings alerts that were given to at least our company, I assume the others as well, that suggested that we be on high alert and sensitivity that if a trove of documents appeared that that we should view that with suspicion that it might be part of a foreign manipulation attempt,’ he continued.
Facebook argued it wanted to limit the spread of disinformation, as some of the claims in the article were unsubstantiated – even though the Post was citing directly from the hard drive.
Facebook limited distribution of the Post’s main story, which had several offshoot stories from, while its outside fact-checkers reviewed the claims made in the article, spokesman Andy Stone said when the article was published two weeks ago.
This meant that while it was under review, Facebook’s algorithms didn’t place posts linking to the story highly in people’s news feeds, which severely reduced the number of users who saw it during that time.
The review did little to limit the spread the article, however, as the same day it was published the article was liked, shared or commented on almost 600,000 times on Facebook.
WE DON’T BAN HOLOCAUST DENIAL, SAYS DORSEY
Trump’s tweets have been labeled several times by Twitter as ‘misleading’, but Republican Senator Cory Gardner pushed Dorsey on why they don’t also censor Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s tweets, which include Holocaust denial and calls for the ‘elimination’ of Israel.
‘Do you believe that the Holocaust really happened?’ Gardner asked Dorsey, to which he responded, ‘Yes.’
‘So you would agree that someone who says the Holocaust may not have happened is spreading disinformation? Yes or no,’ the Colorado Republican pushed.
‘Uh – yes,’ Dorsey said.
‘I appreciate your answers on this, but they surprise me,’ Gardner said. ‘After all, Iran’s Ayatollah has done exactly this – questioning the Holocaust. And yet, his tweets remain unflagged on Twitter’s platform.’
Dorsey argued that tweets are only flagged if they contain ‘misinformation’ or ‘misleading’ information regarding three different categories: ‘manipulated media; public health, specifically COVID; and civic integrity, election interference and voter suppression.’
‘We do not have policy or enforcement for any other types of misleading information that you’re mentioning,’ Dorsey said.
Dorsey also drew fire for allowing the Ayatollah’s threatening statements about Israel to remain up on the site, while facing fire from Republicans for flagging some of Trump’s comments.
‘We did not find those to violate our terms of service because we considered them saber-rattling, which is part of the speech of world leaders in concert with other countries,’ he explained.
Republican Senator Cory Gardner pushed Dorsey on why his website did not censor tweets from Iran’s leader denying the Holocaust and calling for Israel to be ‘eliminated’
Why is this OK? Republicans went after Twitter for allowing Iran’s supreme leader to attack Israel and – in other tweets – deny the Holocaust
He distinguished this from how statements by U.S. leaders would be treated.
‘Speech against our own people or a country’s own citizens we believe is different and can cause more immediate harm,’ he said.
Dorsey was asked by Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, who chairs the subcommittee hosting the hearing, about tweets by the Iranian leader.
‘We will support and assist any nation or any group anywhere who opposes and fights the Zionist regime, and we do not hesitate to say this. #FlyTheFlag’ Ali Khamenei wrote on Twitter in May.
The Ayatollahs’ Twitter account sent out snips from his Quds Day speech in Tehran. Al-Quds is the Arabic and Pesian word for Jerusalem.
Another tweet said: ‘The Zionist regime is a deadly, cancerous growth and a detriment to this region. It will undoubtedly be uprooted and destroyed. Then, the shame will fall on those who put their facilities at the service of normalization of relations with this regime.
Wicker pressed Dorsey on why his company slapped warning labels on President Trump’s tweets about voter fraud but allowed tweets from Iran and the Chinese regime to stay up.
‘You routinely restrict the president of the United State. How does a claim by Chinese communists that the U.S. military is to blame for COVID stay up for two months without a fact check and the president’s tweet about the security of mail-in ballots get labeled instantly?’ he asked.
‘The goal of our labeling is to provide more context, to connect the dots so people can have more information so they can make decisions for themselves,’ he said.
‘YOU’VE LOST OUR FAITH,’ DORSEY SAYS TO CONSERVATIVES
Dorsey acknowledged during the hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet that conservatives ‘don’t trust we are acting in good faith’.
In his opening remarks, which he also posted as a thread to Twitter, Dorsey said, ‘Section 230 gave internet services two important tools. The first provides immunity from liability for user’s content. The second provides ‘Good Samaritan’ protections for content moderation and removal, even of constitutionally protected speech, as long as it’s done ‘in good faith.’
‘Section 230 gave internet services two important tools,’ Dorsey explained in his opening statement, which he also posted in parts as part of a Twitter thread. ‘The first provides immunity from liability for user’s content. The second provides ‘Good Samaritan’ protections for content moderation and removal, even of constitutionally protected speech, as long as it’s done ‘in good faith.’
‘That concept of ‘good faith’ is what’s being challenged by many of you today. Some of you don’t trust we’re acting in good faith,’ he continued.
‘That’s the problem I want to focus on solving,’ Dorsey vowed. ‘How do services like Twitter earn your trust? How do we ensure more choice in the market if we don’t?’
Republican Senator Roger Wicker, who chairs the committee, said it was important to shield companies from liability without giving them the ability to censor content they dislike.
‘The time has come for that free pass to end,’ he said.
A mostly empty room gathered – as many senators and the three witnesses joined by video – for a before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet
Dorsey, who like the other CEOs joined the hearing remotely, argued that tweets are only flagged if they contain ‘misinformation’ regarding ‘manipulated media; public health, specifically COVID; and civic integrity, election interference and voter suppression’
‘YOU’RE LETTING A LIE SPREAD THAT I STRANGLED MY NEIGHBOR’S DOG. IT’S VOTER SUPPRESSION!’ GOP’S RON JOHNSON LASHES DORSEY OVER LIES
Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin also pushed Dorsey on Twitter selectively choosing what to censor. He insisted he was a victim of voter suppression.
The claim comes after a tweet circulated where the user, admittedly lying, said that Johnson strangled her dog.
‘Mr. Dorsey, you talked about your policies toward disinformation and you will block misinformation if it’s about civil integrity, election interference or voter suppression. Let me give you a tweet that was put up on Twitter,’ he said, reading off the tweet.
‘Sen Ron Johnson is my neighbor and strangled our dog, Buttons, right in front of my 4 yr old son and 3 yr old daughter. The police refuse to investigate.This is a complete lie but important to retweet and note that there are more of my lies to come,’ the tweet from a user named Mary T. Hagan reads.
Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson pushed Dorsey on why Twitter did not removed a tweet that went viral where a woman claimed the senator had strangled her dog – she admitted in the tweet it was a lie
‘We contacted Twitter and we asked them to take it down. And here’s the response, ‘Thanks for reaching out. We escalated this to our support team for their review and they have determined this is not a violation of our policies.’ So, Mr. Dorsey, how could a complete lie – it’s admitted, it’s a lie. How does that not affect civic integrity, how could you view that not as being election interference?’ he said.
‘That could impact my ability to get reelected. How could that not be a violation of voter suppression?’ the Wisconsin senator asked. ‘If people think I’m strangling my neighbor’s dog, they may not show up at the polls. That would be voter suppression.’
‘Why didn’t Twitter take that down – by the way, that tweet was retweeted something like 17,000 times and viewed by, and loved, commented, appreciated by over 50,000 people. How is that not voter suppression or election interference? How is that not affect the civil integrity?’
‘We’ll have to look into our enforcement, or not enforcement, in this case, of the tweet,’ Dorsey responded. ‘We can back to you with more context.’
The senator moved on, but continued the aggressive nature of his line of questioning toward Dorsey.
CLASHES OVER ‘FOUNDATIONAL’ PROTECTION TECH GETS FROM SECTION 230 (WITH LIVE TWEETS FROM THE PRESIDENT)
In his opening remarks, Senator Wicker said that while the Section 230 liability shield has protected companies from ‘potentially ruinous lawsuits’ it also had allowed Big Tech to ‘stifle’ users they disagree with.
‘But it has also given these internet platforms the ability to control, stifle, and even censor content in whatever manner meets their respective standards. The time has come for that free pass to end,’ the chairman’s opening statement reads.
Republicans argue this protection for Big Tech should be void if these websites censor content and police what their users can post.
As a result of the presidents attacks, calls for reforming Section 230 intensified from Republican lawmakers ahead of the November 3 elections.
But the tech bosses pushed back.
In their prepared testimony, Dorsey, Zuckerberg and Pichai addressed the proposals for changes to a provision of a 1996 law that has served as the foundation for unfettered speech on the internet. Critics in both parties say that immunity under Section 230 enables the social media companies to abdicate their responsibility to impartially moderate content.
Zuckerberg acknowledged that Congress ‘should update the law to make sure it´s working as intended.’
Dorsey and Pichai urged caution in making any changes. ‘Undermining Section 230 will result in far more removal of online speech and impose severe limitations on our collective ability to address harmful content and protect people online,’ Dorsey said.
Pichai appealed to lawmakers ‘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.’
Pichai said Google operates without political bias and that doing otherwise would be against its business interests. He called
The committee was unable to establish contact with Facebook Inc’s Zuckerberg and declared a short recess. He appeared shortly after and said: ‘I was having a hard time connecting myself.’
Zuckerberg said he supports changing the law but also warned that tech platforms are likely to censor more to avoid legal risks if Section 230 is repealed.
All three CEOs agreed the companies should be held liable if the platforms act as a publisher – on its face a concession but in reality, a restatement of their position that they are not publishers.
SECTION 230: THE LAW AT CENTER OF BIG TECH SHOWDOWN
Twenty-six words tucked into a 1996 law overhauling telecommunications have allowed companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google to grow into the giants they are today.
Under the U.S. law, internet companies are generally exempt from liability for the material users post on their networks. Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act – itself part of a broader telecom law – provides a legal ‘safe harbor’ for internet companies.
But Republicans increasingly argue that Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms have abused that protection and should lose their immunity – or at least have to earn it by satisfying requirements set by the government.
Section 230 probably can’t be easily dismantled. But if it was, the internet as we know it might cease to exist.
Just what is Section 230?
If a news site falsely calls you a swindler, you can sue the publisher for libel. But if someone posts that on Facebook, you can’t sue the company – just the person who posted it.
That’s thanks to Section 230, which states 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.’
That legal phrase shields companies that can host trillions of messages from being sued into oblivion by anyone who feels wronged by something someone else has posted – whether their complaint is legitimate or not.
Section 230 also allows social platforms to moderate their services by removing posts that, for instance, are obscene or violate the services’ own standards, so long as they are acting in ‘good faith.’
Where did Section 230 come from?
The measure’s history dates back to the 1950s, when bookstore owners were being held liable for selling books containing ‘obscenity,’ which is not protected by the First Amendment. One case eventually made it to the Supreme Court, which held that it created a ‘chilling effect’ to hold someone liable for someone else´s content.
That meant plaintiffs had to prove that bookstore owners knew they were selling obscene books, said Jeff Kosseff, the author of ‘The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet,’ a book about Section 230.
Fast-forward a few decades to when the commercial internet was taking off with services like CompuServe and Prodigy. Both offered online forums, but CompuServe chose not to moderate its, while Prodigy, seeking a family-friendly image, did.
CompuServe was sued over that, and the case was dismissed. Prodigy, however, got in trouble. The judge in their case ruled that ‘they exercised editorial control – so you’re more like a newspaper than a newsstand,’ Kosseff said.
That didn’t sit well with politicians, who worried that outcome would discourage newly forming internet companies from moderating at all. And Section 230 was born.
‘Today it protects both from liability for user posts as well as liability for any clams for moderating content,’ Kosseff said.
What happens if Section 230 is limited or goes away?
‘I don´t think any of the social media companies would exist in their current forms without Section 230,’ Kosseff said. ‘They have based their business models on being large platforms for user content.’
There are two possible outcomes. Platforms might get more cautious, as Craigslist did following the 2018 passage of a sex-trafficking law that carved out an exception to Section 230 for material that ‘promotes or facilitates prostitution.’ Craigslist quickly removed its ‘personals’ section altogether, which wasn’t intended to facilitate sex work. But the company didn´t want to take any chances.
This outcome could actually hurt none other than the president himself, who routinely attacks private figures, entertains conspiracy theories and accuses others of crimes.
‘If platforms were not immune under the law, then they would not risk the legal liability that could come with hosting Donald Trump´s lies, defamation, and threats,’ said Kate Ruane, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Another possibility: Facebook, Twitter and other platforms could abandon moderation altogether and let the lower common denominator prevail.
Such unmonitored services could easily end up dominated by trolls, like 8chan, which is infamous for graphic and extremist content, said Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman. Undoing Section 230 would be an ‘an existential threat to the internet,’ he said.
Source: Daily Mail