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GOP senator: Tech giants don't deserve Section 230 protections

Jessica Smith
·Reporter
·3 min read

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) says she’s hopeful recent hearings on Capitol Hill will lead to bipartisan consensus on changes Section 230 — a decades-old law that protects tech companies from being held liable for third-party content posted on their platforms. Lawmakers have long debated Section 230 reforms, but haven’t come to an agreement on how to address the issue.

On Tuesday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about their companies’ moderation practices and their impact on U.S. elections. Lawmakers also covered tech addiction, antitrust issues and efforts to control misinformation.

Democratic senators largely accused the tech executives of not doing enough to stop harmful misinformation, while Republicans continued to make the unproven case that the companies unfairly censor conservatives.

GOP lawmakers pointed to efforts by the companies to stop the spread of a New York Post article about Hunter Biden — a decision Twitter reversed and Dorsey acknowledged was a mistake. Dorsey said the company thought the New York Post article violated its policies on hacked materials.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies remotely during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Facebook and Twitter's actions around the closely contested election on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020, in Washington.. (Bill Clark/Pool via AP)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies remotely during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Facebook and Twitter's actions around the closely contested election on Nov. 17, 2020, in Washington. (Bill Clark/Pool via AP)

“One of the takeaways from yesterday is that yes, they were fully aware — and they had basically been caught, if you will, exercising some censorship,” said Blackburn in an interview with Yahoo Finance.

While the companies admitted they have made mistakes, they argued their policies are fair and denied that political ideology influenced moderation decisions.

Republicans and Democratic lawmakers have different ideas about what to do about Section 230, but there is bipartisan support around the idea of updating it. Dorsey and Zuckerberg have also said they are also open to changes. Still, after multiple hearings focused on big tech — including two featuring Dorsey and Zuckerberg in the past month alone — lawmakers have yet to make significant progress.

“It’s going to take time. I’ve worked on the Section 230 reform issue for about three years now,” said Blackburn. “We will see individuals come forward from both sides of the aisle to support this.”

In the hearing on Tuesday, Blackburn attacked the CEOs for acting like “gods of Silicon Valley,” and made the case that they no longer need the protections provided by the liability shield.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 17:  Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testifies remotely during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled, "Breaking the News: Censorship, Suppression, and the 2020 Election" on Capitol Hill on November 17, 2020 in Washington, DC. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also testified remotely. (Photo by Hannah McKay-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 17: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testifies remotely during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled, "Breaking the News: Censorship, Suppression, and the 2020 Election" on Capitol Hill on November 17, 2020 in Washington, DC. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also testified remotely. (Photo by Hannah McKay-Pool/Getty Images)

“We're going to reform Section 230, to modernize it and to make it applicable so that it applies to new entrants, but not to these big tech giants who have grown to the point that they really do not need, nor do they deserve Section 230 protections,” said Blackburn.

Blackburn told Yahoo Finance there needs to be a “cleanup of the nebulous language” in the law, requiring specifics for when companies moderate content posted on their platforms. Blackburn and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) introduced a bill to modify the law earlier this year.

Some of Tuesday’s hearing focused on the social media companies’ steps to label President Trump’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud and other conspiracy theories. When asked if the companies have an obligation to do something to stop the spread of disinformation coming from the president, Blackburn said the companies have “an obligation for consistency.”

“They will censor Donald Trump 65 times or a hundred times, or however many, and never block anything or question anything from Joe Biden — when you have the Ayatollah shouting ‘death to America’ on Twitter, but you do not see that being blocked or him being censored, or Putin or Xi Jinping,” said Blackburn.

Jessica Smith is a reporter for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaASmith8.

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