Three of tech’s most prominent CEOs tomorrow will face the Senate Commerce Committee during a virtual hearing tomorrow and their opening statements are beginning to trickle out.
The hearing, scheduled for 10 AM ET Wednesday, will see Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai of Alphabet in the hot seat for what’s sure to be a long and winding session on how to rein in big tech’s “bad behavior.”
Specifically, the hearing will delve into a law known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a key legal provision that shields online businesses from content their users create.
With the tide of public opinion turning against social networks in light of algorithmically-amplified societal woes, lawmakers are keen to do something about big tech’s unregulated power — they just can’t quite agree on what yet.
A number of competing pieces of legislation have recently proposed changes to Section 230 but it’s not yet clear what set of changes, if any, will prevail in Congress. While both political parties can agree that big tech needs a check on its power, they arrive at that conclusion from very different paths. Republicans remain occupied with claims of anti-conservative political bias in tech, while Democrats are focused on the failure of platforms to remove misinformation and other dangerous content.
Tech companies see any interest in altering Section 230 as an existential threat — and rightly so. The law is critical to growing any kind of online platform with user-made content (social networks, comments sections, even Amazon reviews) without being sued into oblivion.
In his opening statement, Dorsey calls Section 230 “the Internet’s most important law for free speech and safety” and focuses on the kind of cascading effects that could arise if tech’s key legal shield comes undone.
“We must ensure that all voices can be heard, and we continue to make improvements to our service so that everyone feels safe participating in the public conversation—whether they are speaking or simply listening,” Dorsey writes. “The protections offered by Section 230 help us achieve this important objective.”
Dorsey argues that dismantling Section 230 would result in much more content being removed — a line of reasoning aimed at Republicans’ ongoing accusations of political censorship.
He also makes the timely choice to defend Section 230 from an antitrust perspective, arguing that the law made it possible for small internet companies to establish themselves. Dorsey warns that changes to 230 would leave “only a small number of giant and well-funded technology companies,” resulting in an even more winner-take-all environment.
Dorsey’s full opening statement is embedded below.