Social media companies have moved to front and center in controversies over censorship and control of our information. That was the topic of another recent hearing titled: Breaking the News: Censorship, Suppression and the 2020 Election.
Twitter drew controversy shortly before the election when it censored The New York Post’s article. It was about controversies surrounding Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, his foreign business deals, and contents alleged to be on his laptop computer.
At a Senate hearing, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said his company blocked the Post’s tweets because of a policy against sharing material “hacked” from someone’s computer, though there was no indication such material was in The Post article.
Jack Dorsey: Upon further consideration, we admitted this action was wrong and corrected it within 24 hours.
Actually, it caused a two week long stalemate. When Twitter finally unlocked the Post’s account, the newspaper celebrated with a FREE BIRD front page.
From Twitter to Facebook and Google, Internet giants are under fire for their increasingly heavy-hand when flagging and blocking certain views, news and science.
Ted Cruz: 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?
Republican Ted Cruz argues Big Tech censorship tends to be famously one-sided.
Cruz: You didn't block the distribution of the New York Times story that alleged to talk about President Trump’s tax returns, even though federal statute makes it a crime to distribute someone’s tax returns without their consent. You didn’t block any of that discussion, did you?
Dorsey: In the New York Times case, we interpreted it as reporting about the hacked materials.
Some Democrats, like Dianne Feinstein, cheered on the big tech companies acting as information mediators.
Dianne Feinstein: Does misinformation about the results of an election and voter fraud relate to civic integrity?
Dorsey: Yes. It does. And we label those tweets.
Republican Lindsey Graham questioned Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Lindsey Graham: When it comes to fact-checking, would you give us a list of people you use to fact-check?
Mark Zuckerberg: Senator yes. We work with a number of independent organizations that are accredited by the Pointer Institute, and they include Reuters, the Associated Press
Critics say the problem is those very groups are not independent, and have themselves made egregious reporting errors.
By big tech companies injecting themselves into content decisions, they’ve transformed from website publishers or platforms into editorial publishers, according to some.
Graham: The editorial decision by the New York Post to run the story was overridden by Twitter and Facebook in different fashions to prevent its dissemination. Now if that's not making an editorial decision I don't know what would be.
That matters because entities that make editorial decisions aren’t entitled to the same legal protection from lawsuits brought by those who have their material banned or censored, under a law called Section 230.
But Zuckerburg argues they do not qualify as a news content publisher.
Zuckerberg: We're also clearly not like a news publisher, in that we don’t create the content and we don’t choose up front what we publish. We give people a voice to be able to publish things.
Sharyl (on camera): Congress is considering stripping Section 230 protections from the big tech companies but hasn’t voted to do so yet.