Republicans and Democrats agree on almost nothing these days, but they do seem to have one thing in common: They both like taking shots at Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, albeit for different reasons, and the two billionaire CEOs were forced to sit through a fussilade of questions during Senate testimony on Wednesday.
In a Seneate Commerce Committee meeting, Republicans acused the platforms of censorsing conservatives and possessing an inherent liberal bias. Democrats said the platforms are still not doing enough to cut back on toxic conversations across their sites. None of it seemed much focused on the day’s purported topic: Section 230, a nearly quarter-century-old law that helped form the modern internet—legislation both sides of the aisle think should be modified. Zuckerberg and Dorsey have newly positioned themselves as open to regulation, an effort to appease their critics and avoid constructing the rules for themselves.
Here are some highlights from the testimony, which also included Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai.
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GOP senators wasted no time in making their intentions clear: Today wasn’t so much about discusisng how to fix Section 230 as an opportunity to publicly reprimand the CEOs. Their main target was Dorsey, and several Republican senators accused Twitter of over-policing President Trump and other conservative lawmakers while not doing enough to crack down on authoritarian governments overseas. In one dramatic exchange, Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner suggested Twitter was more comfortable taking action against Trump than tamping down on Holocaust deniers and the ayatollah of Iran, Ali Khamenei.
Gardner went on to ask why Twitter TWTR -5.3% hadn’t taken action against several of the ayatollah’s anti-Israeli tweets but had applied labels and warnings to Trump’s tweets. Dorsey dismissed Khamenei’s remarks as “saber rattling,” making a two-fold implication: The ayatollah’s tweets were largely empty threats, and they posed a less pressing concern than Trump’s tweets directly about America, which remains Twitter’s core market. “Speech against our own people…we believe is different and can cause more immediate harm,” Dorsey said. He on several occassions added that Twitter has taken action against several world leaders.
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And when it was Ted Cruz’s turn, the Texan senator dialed up the drama further, raising his voice and causticly attacking Dorsey. In comparison to other social media sites, “Twitter’s conduct has been the most egregious,” Cruz said. He labelled the company’s recent actions to limit the distribution of an unverified report on Joe Biden and his son Hunter as “censoring and silencing.”
In his denounement, Cruz asked, rhetorically, “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?”
Social Media Platforms Are The Refs—Whether They Like It Or Not
At one point in today’s hearing, Republican Sen. John Tune, of South Dakota, asked Dorsey, Zuckerberg and Pichai if they considered themselves “the refs,” as in, the refrees of what should go online. Unsurprisingly, all three answered in the negative.
That’s not really true. All of their companies play significant roles in controling what we see on the internet. But in a political climate where Republicans want them to do less moderating and Democrats want more, it would’ve been political dynamite for the CEOs to answer any other way. They want to appear as neutral as possible and fear being pushed toward a position that overtly favors one party, leading to retribution from the other.
Dorsey was equally hesitant to admit to his company’s true power in another exchange with Cruz. Cruz asked Dorsey whether he thought Twitter influenced elections, something that Twitter—an enormous source of public information—obviously does even though it is not a stated corporate goal.
In response to Cruz’s question, Dorsey said he didn’t think Twitter influenced elections, saying people have enough choices of where they can get information to avoid being unduly influenced by Twitter.
Democrats Decried Wednesday’s Hearing But Also Got In Their Own Jabs
“This hearing comes six days before election day. I believe the Republican majority is politicizing what should actually not be a partisan topic,” declared Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the former presidential candidate from Wisconsin. Klobuchar was one of many Democrats who accused the Republicans of fasttracking today’s testimony in an effort to coordinate a highly public rebuke on the social media companies, a favorite target for Republicans and their base. “I am appalled that my Republican colleagues…seem to want to bully and browbeat these platforms to try to tilt them for President Trump,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut. “The timing seems inexplicable.”
Nonetheless, Democrats took an opportunity to voice their own criticism, much of it going to Facebook, whose core Facebook app is generally used by older users and has become a bastion of conservative media despite what Republicans maintain. Democrats pressed Zuckerberg on how he might change Section 230 and his plans for combating misinformation during the presidential election. Zuckerberg responded in part by noting his company has hired more than 35,000 workers devoted to content moderation and is spending billions of dollars on security, a figure that is a relatively small sum given Facebook’s $70.7 billion in annual revenue last year.
Alphabet and Sundar Pichai Largely Escaped Attention … For Now
The senators concentrated on their efforts on questioning Dorsey and Zuckerberg, leaving Pichai alone for the most part. He did not answer a question at length until the second hour of today’s nearly four-hour proceedings. Worth noting: Several Republicans misprounced Pichai’s name on numerous occasions, continuing a pattern that President Trump himself has set of belittling opponents, particularly ones who are non-white. Recently, GOP Sen. David Perdue, of Georgia, misprounced Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris’ name at a campaign rally, referring to Harris as “Kamala-mala-mala.”
Pichai will soon have much more to worry about. The Justice Department is suing Google GOOG -5.5% over antitrust concerns, and politicians from both parties are eager to curb Google’s place as the dominant search engine. “The antitrust concerns are real, the impact of Google is profound,” Cruz said.
… And A Surprise Guest Star
The biggest winner from the day? Probably Dorsey’s quarantine beard, which has grown to monk-like proportions. His facial hair quickly sprouted many a Twitter meme.https://cdn.embedly.com/widgets/media.html?type=text%2Fhtml&key=3ce26dc7e3454db5820ba084d28b4935&schema=twitter&url=https%3A//twitter.com/mikeisaac/status/1321457998288465921&image=https://cdn.embedly.com/widgets/media.html?type=text%2Fhtml&key=3ce26dc7e3454db5820ba084d28b4935&schema=twitter&url=https%3A//twitter.com/tayhatmaker/status/1321457172845187077&image=https://cdn.embedly.com/widgets/media.html?type=text%2Fhtml&key=3ce26dc7e3454db5820ba084d28b4935&schema=twitter&url=https%3A//twitter.com/swiftonsecurity/status/1321477036444180486&image=
Full Story: https://www.forbes.com/sites/abrambrown/2020/10/28/5-big-takeaways-from-dorsey-and-zuckerbergs-contentious-trip-to-the-senate/#4b1718dd17bc