- The Washington Times
Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will call for a “more active role for governments and regulators” in testimony to a Senate committee on Wednesday, The Washington Times has learned.

Mr. Zuckerberg will tell lawmakers that he supports their efforts to change Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects social media companies from legal liability for content posted by users on their platforms.

The protection is a target for lawmakers who want to rein in Big Tech’s power and limit the companies’ ability to restrict speech online. Mr. Zuckerberg also will say that the ongoing debate about the protection shows that Americans are unhappy with the status quo.

“I believe Congress should update the law to make sure it’s working as intended,” Mr. Zuckerberg will say, according to the prepared remarks. “We support the ideas around transparency and industry collaboration that are being discussed in some of the current bipartisan proposals, and I look forward to a meaningful dialogue about how we might update the law to deal with the problems we face today.”

Alongside Mr. Zuckerberg, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is scheduled to hear from Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

Mr. Dorsey is expected to take the opposite view of Mr. Zuckerberg and warn that undermining Section 230 could result in the removal of more speech online instead of less, according to reports.

While the commerce committee hearing is intended to focus on Section 230, the spotlight will fall squarely on the companies’ alleged censorship of political speech in the final days of the 2020 campaign.

Senate Republicans are expected to place conservative outrage over Big Tech censorship front and center at Wednesday’s hearing, but the timing of the hearing less than one week before Election Day has many observers doubting its value to policymakers.

“In the past, these hearings have more been an opportunity for members of Congress to make speeches and chastise the companies and for the companies to appear cowed by it and regretful,” said David Greene, Electronic Frontier Foundation senior staff attorney.

Republican lawmakers have relentlessly pursued Mr. Dorsey and Mr. Zuckerberg’s testimony before the November elections. Senate Republicans are furious with the heads of Facebook and Twitter over their companies’ blocks of the distribution of news reports about Hunter Biden’s alleged emails that reveal new details of his overseas business deals and threaten to damage the presidential campaign of his father, Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden.

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee authorized subpoenas for Mr. Dorsey and Mr. Zuckerberg to testify about their blocks. Then, in an about-face on Friday evening, the judiciary committee announced that the CEOs would voluntarily testify after the election on Nov. 17.

The change means Wednesday’s showdown is almost certainly the only venue for congressional scrutiny of the tech CEOs before Election Day.

Facebook, Google, and Twitter have all taken actions since the hearings were scheduled to attempt to show that they are good stewards of online speech.

Facebook’s new oversight board charged with reviewing the company’s content enforcement decisions across its platforms began accepting cases for review on Thursday. The board’s new activity may give Mr. Zuckerberg ammunition to argue that he is making good-faith efforts to self-regulate before governments step in to do it for him.

Google, meanwhile, announced Tuesday that it will “temporarily pause” ads referring to the 2020 election or its outcome as soon as the polls close next week. Google also said it is partnering with the Associated Press to provide authoritative election results next week and is taking additional steps to fight the spread of bad information on its platform.

Twitter updated its policies that affect when and how it moderates content online after its restrictions on anti-Biden news became fodder for congressional scrutiny. On Tuesday, Twitter labeled a tweet by former Obama administration Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. about voting procedures with a warning that it might be misleading. The company later withdrew the warning.

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