Should Twitter, Google and Facebook be held more accountable for what users do on their platforms?
That is what American politics is now considering.
Five questions about the debate about the role of social media in freedom of speech on the Internet.
What is this actually about?
The subject of the discussion is section 230, part of the Communications Decency Act.
The article states that companies such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (part of Google) cannot be held responsible for the messages, photos and videos that users upload on their platforms.
Section 230 also allows these companies to impose restrictions or remove content if, in the company's judgment, this is undesirable.
The law does prescribe that this must be done "with the best of intentions".
The directors of the three companies, Jack Dorsey (Twitter), Sundar Pichai (Google) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), testified October 28 before a US Senate committee.
Roger Wicker, Republican Senate Committee Chair, noted that Section 230 "has been critical in protecting online platforms from endless and potentially disastrous lawsuits."
Twitter director Jack Dorsey was faced with the most questions. Republicans are concerned about alleged censorship of conservative sound. Dorsey says Twitter treats users equally. (Photo: Reuters)
Twitter director Jack Dorsey was faced with the most questions.
Republicans are concerned about alleged censorship of conservative sound.
Dorsey says Twitter treats users equally.
So Section 230 protects the Internet companies, why is the article under pressure?
The article has been criticized by both Republicans and Democrats, but in a different way.
Roughly speaking, the Republicans argue that Section 230 causes too much intervention by companies such as Facebook and Twitter.
On the other hand, Democrats argue that companies cannot be properly held accountable if they do not intervene.
In fact, the two presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden both advocate for the law to be repealed completely.
Trump regularly has to stick with Twitter.
The incumbent president uses his @realDonaldTrump account as a mouthpiece to the people.
Trump often posts messages that the social network says is false or misleading.
Twitter posts this behind a warning: only those who click through can see the tweet.
REPEAL SECTION 230 !!!
Avatar Author realDonaldTrumpMoment of places16: 08 - October 6, 2020
Biden especially doesn't like Facebook.
Earlier this year, he said in an interview with
The New York Times
that Section 230 allows Facebook to "spread falsehoods while knowing they are false."
According to him, the protection of the legal part ensures that Facebook does not bear any responsibility.
So does that mean the end of section 230?
Although Trump threatens to single-handedly contain section 230, the power to amend the law rests with Congress.
The hearing by the senate committee can lay a foundation for how that is done.
Commission President Wicker noted that Section 230 allows Internet companies "to control, throttle, and even censor content in ways that meet their own standards. It is time for that license to end."
Wicker also said that he does not (yet) embrace Trump and Biden's position to revoke section 230 altogether.
A complete repeal of the article is unlikely, but since both Republicans and Democrats agree that Section 230 no longer fits the current role of companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, adjustment seems obvious.
The question is how exactly.
Not all questions were actually about Section 230. At one point, Google director Sundar Pichai had to respond to the US Department of Justice's lawsuit announced Oct. 20 for alleged abuse of power. (Photo: Reuters)
Not all questions were actually about Section 230. At one point, Google director Sundar Pichai had to respond to the US Department of Justice's lawsuit announced Oct. 20 for alleged abuse of power.
How do Twitter, Google and Facebook react?
Dorsey, Pichai and Zuckerberg stated in their opening statement that they do not see an end to section 230.
These statements gave the three directors an opportunity to express their views before being submitted to questions from the senators.
Google CEO Pichai said in particular that senators should be cautious and careful about any Section 230 reform. Zuckerberg said Facebook would like to think along about what an adjustment should look like - a tactic the company has used more often because can thus steer the content of the new law.
Twitter director Dorsey came up with concrete ideas.
He proposed obliging companies to disclose what choices they make in enforcing the policy.
Also, users should have a good way to object to the choices human moderators or algorithms make.
Dorsey presents Twitter as an underdog compared to Facebook and Google.
While this is the case in terms of revenue and number of users, Twitter is not inferior to its competitors in terms of its role in the public debate - especially with a fanatical and influential user like Trump and other world leaders.
Mark Zuckerberg announced that a warning from the FBI about possible hacking operations in the run-up to the election contributed to the decision to limit the reach of a controversial New York Post article. (Photo: Reuters)
Mark Zuckerberg announced that a warning from the FBI about possible hacking operations in the run-up to the election contributed to the decision to limit the reach of a controversial New York Post article.
What did the interview of the three directors yield?
At least a chance for the senators to personally question Dorsey, Pichai and Zuckerberg and make their pain points clear.
And sometimes to use the stage to express displeasure.
On the Republican side, it was mainly about the alleged censorship.
Twitter CEO Dorsey in particular had to endure this.
Among other things, he was asked why Trump is so often tackled, while world leaders from other countries, especially Iran, are not punished or much later.
Dorsey stated that Twitter is also taking action against other world leaders who violate the policy.
The tune is now known to the three directors: Dorsey, Pichai and Zuckerberg have each had to account for themselves in Washington at least twice before in recent years.
This virtual meeting was no different in that regard.
All in all, the interrogation was a repeat exercise for Democrats and Republicans to make clear where they stand.
The directors interviewed had to submit to it, but got off without a hitch.
The real work is taking place in Congress, which is not expected to deal with the amendment of the law until 2021.