Facebook, Twitter, Google CEOs will testify before Senate panel

Chief executives of tech giants agree to testify at a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee on Oct. 28 about a key law protecting internet companies after panel voted to subpoena them to answer questions on disinformation, online scams and other social ills

by David Shepardson
Facebook, Twitter, Google CEOs will testify before Senate panel
Lawmakers from both parties in the US have called for changes to the legal liability shield of online services under a law known as Section 230, claiming the provision enables toxic and harmful content to proliferate. Image: Reuters.

WASHINGTON: The chief executives of Facebook, Twitter and Google have agreed to voluntarily testify at a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee on Oct. 28 about a key law protecting internet companies. 

Facebook and Twitter confirmed on Friday that their CEOs, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, respectively, will appear, while a source said that Google's Sundar Pichai will appear. That came a day after the committee unanimously voted to approve a plan to subpoena the three CEOs to appear before the panel.

Twitter's Dorsey tweeted on Friday that the hearing "must be constructive & focused on what matters most to the American people: how we work together to protect elections."

The CEOs are to appear virtually (via the internet). 

The move comes with Big Tech platforms facing heightened scrutiny on monopoly concerns, and also for failing to stem hateful and nefarious content.

As well as discussion on reforming the law called Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects internet companies from liability over content posted by users, the hearing will bring up issues about consumer privacy and media consolidation.

Republican President Donald Trump has made holding tech companies accountable for allegedly stifling conservative voices a theme of his administration. As a result, calls for a reform of Section 230 have been intensifying ahead of the November 3 elections, but there is little chance of approval by Congress this year.

Last week Trump met with nine Republican state attorneys general to discuss the fate of Section 230 after the Justice Department unveiled a legislative proposal aimed at reforming the law.

The chief executives of Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon.com recently testified before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel. The panel, which is investigating how the companies’ practices hurt rivals, is expected to release its report as early as next Monday.

Republican Senator Roger Wicker, who chairs the panel, said last week: "We have questioned how they (Big Tech) are protecting and securing the data of millions of Americans, we've explored how they're combating disinformation fraud and other online scams, we've examined whether they are providing a safe and secure internet experience for children and teens."

Harmful content

Wicker said the panel wants to know "how they are removing content from their sites that encourages extremism and mass violence... their use of secret algorithms that may manipulate users and drive compulsive usage of the internet, among our youth."

The tech giants like Amazon, Apple and Microsoft have seen their economic power grow in recent years and accelerate during the coronavirus pandemic, dominating a range of economic sectors.

Lawmakers from both parties have called for changes to the legal liability shield of online services under a law known as Section 230, claiming the provision enables toxic and harmful content to proliferate.

Google and Facebook are also under scrutiny by federal and state anti-trust regulators.

During the hearing in July, when chief executives of Amazon.com, Facebook, Apple and Alphabet's Google testified before the panel, the four CEOs parried a range of accusations that they crippled smaller rivals in their quest for market share.

The four companies have a combined market value of about $5 trillion.

The Justice Department is also probing the big four tech platforms. Facebook and Amazon are also facing inquiries by the Federal Trade Commission, while US state attorneys general are looking at Facebook and Google.

Reuters, with reporting by AFP