Zuckerberg to express openness to Section 230 reform

Greg Nash

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will express support for reforming Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act during a Senate hearing on the online liability law, according to prepared testimony reviewed by The Hill.

“Section 230 made it possible for every major internet service to be built and ensured important values like free expression and openness were part of how platforms operate,” he is set to say.

“However, I believe Congress should update the law to make sure it’s working as intended. We support the ideas around transparency and industry collaboration that are being discussed in some of the current bipartisan proposals, and I look forward to a meaningful dialogue about how we might update the law to deal with the problems we face today.”

Zuckerberg’s new openness to reforming the 1996 law may signal that Facebook believes the political winds are turning against Section 230.

The law, which has faced increased scrutiny since President Trump targeted it in an executive order in May, gives internet companies immunity from lawsuits for content posted on their sites by third parties and allows them to make “good faith” efforts to moderate content.

Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Google’s Sundar Pichai, the other two executives testifying in front of the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday, are set to continue defending the law as important to maintaining freedom of expression online.

“We should also be mindful that 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 in prepared testimony obtained by The Hill.

Pichai, who is also the chief executive of Google’s parent company Alphabet, is set to to call the law “foundational” and warn that changes to it could have consequences for “businesses and consumers.”

Republicans on the panel are likely to spend the majority of the hearing arguing that Section 230 allows platforms to discriminate against conservative content, despite the fact that conservative content is often amplified instead. Conservative voices are dominant on Facebook, for example, based on publicly available data about post interactions.

While there have been bipartisan efforts to amend or revoke the 1996 law, the centering of anti-conservative bias allegations in those discussions show how the issue has become increasingly partisan.

Several bills have been introduced aimed at amending Section 230, including one by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).

That proposal, the Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act, would condition the protections given by Section 230 on whether platforms make content decisions that are “objectively reasonable.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced another major bill on the issue last month that would tie Section 230 protections to efforts to combat child sexual abuse material.

The Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act would allow federal and state claims against online companies that host child exploitation content.

The bipartisan Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency Act, which would require greater transparency around platforms’ decisions to moderate their users’ content, remains in committee.

The Federal Communications Commission is also moving forward with a Trump administration petition to clarify the meaning and scope of Section 230, despite near universal pushback from legal experts who point out that only Congress has the authority to amend laws.

The hearing is also meant to focus on data privacy and media consolidation, a concession given to Democrats on the panel after they initially opposed efforts to subpoena the CEOs.

Ranking member Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) released a report earlier Tuesday criticizing Big Tech’s “destruction” of local news outlets, hinting at where her questioning will focus.

The 66-page report argues that Silicon Valley companies have engaged in “unfair and abusive practices,” including “taking publishers’ online content without proper compensation [and] diverting user traffic away from local news websites.”

Zuckerberg previewed his response to those kinds of concerns, arguing in his prepared testimony that the company has helped outlets with distribution and pointing to funding it has put toward boosting the news industry.

This will be the second time that Zuckerberg and Pichai testify this year, having appeared before the House Judiciary panel on antitrust during a hearing on competition in digital marketplaces.

Zuckerberg and Dorsey will appear again in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 for another hearing on Section 230.

Tags Donald Trump Facebook Google Maria Cantwell Mark Zuckerberg Roger Wicker Section 230 Twitter
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