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‘Facebook and Twitter don’t get to be the last word as what counts as news in this country:’ Sen. Blackburn

Yahoo Finance's Alexis Christoforous and Sen. Marsha Blackburn discuss the Senate's grilling of big tech on Capitol Hill.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Big tech was in the virtual hot seat on Capitol Hill yesterday. Facebook CEO Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey were grilled by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee as they testified about their platform's misinformation in the 2020 election. Senator Marsha Blackburn, the Republican from Tennessee, was among the lawmakers who drilled down on Facebook and Twitter and how they moderate content.

MARSHA BLACKBURN: Facebook and Twitter don't get to be the last word in what counts as real news in this country, even though you're beginning to conduct yourself as news publishers and distributors. My colleagues and I have asked you all repeatedly through the years for greater transparency and to accept responsibility. You've chosen to do neither. So it is going to be up to us to change existing law.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: And Senator Blackburn joins us now. Senator, thanks so much for being with us. So after more than four hours of questioning by lawmakers yesterday, did you learn anything new from these CEOs about how they are handling content on their platforms?

MARSHA BLACKBURN: Yes, so we learn something new every time they come before us or every phone call that we have with them. I-- one of the takeaways from yesterday is that yes, they were fully aware in that they had basically been caught, if you will, exercising some censorship and some throttling. That came forward as "The New York Post" story was discussed that the posting on Hunter Biden prior to the election.

Also, there is an admission that they realize that they are getting over in the news business as we talked about how 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.

JESSICA SMITH: Hi, Senator, Jessica Smith here. As we're listening to this conversation, as we were watching the hearing yesterday, it seems that Republicans and Democrats have two different ideas of what this actual problem is. We have Republicans saying that these companies are moderating too much, while Democrats are saying they're not doing enough. So how do you even start to bridge that gap and find compromise?

MARSHA BLACKBURN: You know, it is going to take time. I've worked on the Section 230 reform issue for about three years now and getting the legislation into shape to move forward the Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act. That is something that we will see individuals come forward from both sides of the aisle to support this. It is going to be marked up in Judiciary Committee tomorrow.

Now what you noticed yesterday was the Democrats wanted to talk more about antitrust violations. There is the DOJ lawsuit against Google. There are concerns about their data mining practices, as there are with Facebook and Twitter. And also, concurrently, we have the privacy bill, which is bipartisan, moving forward, and the Commerce Committee.

So finding common ground is something that we will be able to do. Democrats have long joined Republicans in protecting free speech. You might not agree with something, but you will protect someone's right to say that. I think they will return to that position of protecting free speech. I'm certainly hopeful that we are going to see that.

But people do agree that Section 230 is to be there for new market entrants. It is not to be there for tech giants. That there has to be clarification around the liability protection as to who can use it, when and how they can also use it. There needs to be a clean-up of the nebulous language. If you're going to censor, it needs to be for something specific. Adding that specificity in is something we've done in the Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act.

Making certain that we designate who is a publisher, because we have some sites that have been supposedly blocked or throttled because of something said in a comment section, not something that the site themselves was posting. So, therefore, we are-- we have some agreement that this does need to be shaped up. I'm just so pleased that we are moving forward with the legislation and that the conversation is now moving from the backburner to the front burner.

JESSICA SMITH: Part of this debate has been about the labels that these social media companies are putting on the president's tweets, the president's posts. Do you think that these tech companies have an obligation to stop the spread of disinformation that can cast doubt on the democratic process?

MARSHA BLACKBURN: They have an obligation for consistency with the people that are on their platforms. When they will censor or Donald Trump 65 times or 100 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, then you have to say, is this being done politically, especially when Jack Dorsey says, well, I think world leaders need access to my platform.

Then it is, OK, do you consider Donald Trump a world leader? Or why are you censoring and blocking only him and not censoring or blocking or having some form of moderation put on anyone else, especially when you look at the fact that in China, Twitter is blocked. In Iran, Twitter is blocked. So it does cause you to question why it is that they only seem to block a conservative and not block someone who has a different point of view.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Senator, I want to pivot for a moment to the pandemic and the millions of Americans who are struggling financially right now, waiting for another stimulus package from out of Congress. What is the likelihood we could actually get that, say, before Christmas?

MARSHA BLACKBURN: Oh my goodness, I so wish we could. We have twice put out our bill on the floor in the Senate, which, of course, as you well know, you have to pass something in the Senate before you can go to conference in the House. And the bill has been defeated each time on a party line vote. That is incredibly unfortunate.

And our legislation would have done another round of PPP. It would have repositioned leftover funds in the CARES Act. There would have been a plus-up of $300 a week for those that are on unemployment, those that lost their jobs through no fault of their own. It would have also had extra money for developing, testing, and vaccines and for getting children back to school.

I have a constituent in Tennessee who, the other day, said to me, I want my old normal back. I don't want a new normal. And so many people are in that position. And, you know, we had looked at one point, for every one person that had been adversely impacted by the virus physically, we had 33 individuals who had been adversely impacted financially.

And my heart just breaks. And our team is working so diligently with the small businesses, with employers, with individuals. We would very much like to see a bill. And I think that people were really disappointed when the president offered $1.9 trillion as a deal with Pelosi, and she turned it down. It's, you know, all-- everything that she wants or nothing at all. And that's not fair to a lot of people who are really hurting and wanted another round of PPP or wanted, you know, a plus-up in unemployment.

A great example of this is with our live entertainment industry in Tennessee. All of our concerts, tours, these studio musicians, these guys that do the lighting and sound and the techs, those that set up the staging, break it down, the guys that drive the trucks and haul it all across the country, their income went from a very good year to zero overnight. They did nothing wrong. They need the help. And we have worked every way we can, whether it's the RESTART Act or Save Our Stages Act, trying to help these guys to weather this storm.