Tech CEOs told ‘time for self-regulation is over’
The chief executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter appeared before Congress on Thursday to answer questions about extremism and misinformation on their services in their first appearances since pro-Trump rioters assaulted the US Capitol on January 6.
Facebook Inc chief executive Mark Zuckerberg; Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google parent Alphabet Inc; and Twitter Inc CEO Jack Dorsey are testifying before the joint hearing by two subcommittees of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Lawmakers began the hearing by criticising the social media platforms for their role in the riot and in the spread of Covid-19 vaccine misinformation.
“You failed to meaningfully change after your platform has played a role in fomenting insurrection and abetting the spread of the virus and trampling American civil liberties,” said Democratic Representative Frank Pallone, chair of the Energy and Commerce committee.
“Your business model itself has become the problem and the time for self-regulation is over. It’s time we legislate to hold you accountable,” he added.
“The witnesses here today have demonstrated time and again that promises to self-regulate don’t work,” said Jan Schakowsky, chair of the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, in an opening statement. “They must be held accountable for allowing disinformation and misinformation to spread across their platforms, infect our public discourse, and threaten our democracy.”
Republicans on the panel also criticised the tech giants for what they see as efforts to stifle conservative voices.
Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Washington Republican, criticised the power of tech companies’ algorithms to determine what children see online.
“Over 20 years ago, before we knew what Big Tech would become, Congress gave you liability protections. I want to know, why do you think you still deserve those protections today?” said McMorris Rodgers, the committee’s top Republican. “What will it take for your business model to stop harming children?”
Some lawmakers are calling for Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields online websites from liability over user content, to be scrapped or rejigged. Some Democrats, including President Joe Biden, agree.
The tech executives differ in their support for making changes to Section 230. In his prepared opening remarks, Zuckerberg said he supports making the liability protection conditional on having systems in place for removing unlawful material. Under Zuckerberg’s proposal, a third party would determine whether a company’s systems are adequate.
Google’s Pichai, whose company owns the most popular internet search engine, signalled that he is opposed to any changes to the law. Reforming it or repealing it altogether “would have unintended consequences -- harming both free expression and the ability of platforms to take responsible action to protect users in the face of constantly evolving challenges,” he said in prepared testimony.