(UnitedVoice.com) – For the first time since Democrats took the majority in the House, Senate and presidency, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing. Lawmakers made it clear that they expect a reckoning against Facebook, Google, and Twitter. It’s the fourth time in 12 months that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress. It’s the third time for Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
Democrats placed significant blame on the Big Tech companies for the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill. For Republicans, it was their first salvo at grilling the social media CEOs over their ban on former President Trump and other leading conservatives.
Democrats Tell Big Tech to Expect Legislation
In the wake of the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill, Democrats want to find a way to punish big tech for allowing communication on their platforms that enabled rioters to communicate before and during the horrific event.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) said the hearing was preliminary to writing new legislation focusing on discouraging online platforms from profiting from disinformation. Pallone said the Democrats intended to discourage the social media companies’ “extremist behavior” and force them to “act in the public interest” over making a profit.
However, Pallone will have a challenge on his hands, balancing all the perspectives of the committee. Democrats say they want to stop what they term “hate speech” and misinformation. Meanwhile, Republicans want anti-conservative bias and censorship to end.
Section 230’s Liability Shield
Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act shields Big Tech companies from liability over what people post on their platforms. In the wake of conservative censorship, former President Trump called for Congress to strip the Big Tech communities of their immunity because they were no longer just distributors of content but decision-makers regarding what is or is not published and removed on their platforms.
Zuckerberg offered the first shot at negotiations. He said shielding Big Tech companies should be contingent on a platform’s best practices to “combat the spread of unlawful content.” Lawmakers pointed out that that doesn’t really solve the problem. Instead, it protects Facebook’s interest. Still, Google’s Pichai expressed concern that changing Section 230 could limit free expression because platforms could move to protect their companies from the new risk.
Who’s Watching the Big Tech Companies?
Perhaps the biggest question not asked was, who’s watching over the Big Tech companies as they watch over every word and thought on their platforms? It seems legislation and stripping some of Big Tech’s liability shield could disrupt their business models so much the companies could double down on all the things America doesn’t like about them.
If it’s not extremely careful, Congress risks putting a bandaid on a gaping wound. A partisan legislative agenda driving social media best practices deserves skepticism at the very least. The result could be an incomplete solution leading to a polarization and causing the exact opposite of what Congress wants: more extremism.
To create the best policy, Congress should be asking some difficult questions instead of responding to partisan crises.
- Who is going to watch over the process?
- Who decides what is or isn’t extremism?
- What are the built-in biases?
- How certain can we be that legislation or regulations will work?
If the politicians don’t slow down and learn enough to ask the right questions, they could make a bad problem far worse.
Don Purdum, Independent Political Analyst
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