Testy Grilling Of Tech CEOs Dominates Senate Hearing

The US Senate Commerce Committee’s virtual probing of CEOs from big name tech firms has cast a spotlight on the difference stances of the Republican and Democratic parties in the US.

On Wednesday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Alphabet/Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and (eventually) Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg appeared virtually before the panel, whose purpose was to discuss possible changes to a law that grants tech platforms legal immunity for their content moderation decisions.

The appearance comes after the Senate Committee earlier this month had to subpoena the chief executives of Twitter, Alphabet’s Google and Facebook for the hearing, after they had refused to appear on a voluntary basis.

Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey

Section 230

The US Senate Commerce Committee chaired by Republican Senator Roger Wicker, subpoenaed tech CEOs about reforms of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which offers tech companies protection from liability over content posted by users.

Essentially it stops tech firms from being liable for the content and opinions expressed online by its users.

Reuters reported that the questioning saw many Republicans on the panel call for the repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, while Democrats preferring targeted, surgical revision of Section 230.

But some of the exchanges were fiery, with CNN providing a video of Senator Ted Cruz hitting out at Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey, that saw the grandstanding Republican senator demanding “who the hell elected you?” of Dorsey.

Fiery exchange

Senator Cruz also demanded to know why Dorsey was “put charge of what the media are allowed to report and what the American people are allowed to hear.”

“And why do you persist in behaving as a Democratic super PAC suppressing views contrary to your political beliefs?” demanded Cruz.

Dorsey to his credit provided a measured response in which he denied being in charge of what the American people can hear, but at the same time he admitted the platform had to “earn trust more” whilst he acknowledged Senator Cruz’s concerns.

Dorsey also said that Twitter wants to fix any issues in a transparent way, and then went to deny Senator Cruz’s statement that Twitter had the ability to influence US Presidential elections.

A later CNN analysis of the hearing concluded that the hearing was a highly partisan display “had nearly as much sniping by lawmakers at one another as questions directed at the CEOs.”

“It was a hearing virtually devoid of substance and that barely touched on matters of policy, which allowed the executives to run out the clock with promises of future transparency that will have almost no bearing on events today,” CNN reported.

Trump pressure

There was little surprise in Republican senators going after tech CEOs, as they often accuse them of silencing Conservative voices online.

The US action on Section 230 comes after US President Donald Trump earlier this year clashed publicly with Twitter, after it began applying a fact-checking warning to the President’s tweets for the first time, as part of its new policy on misleading information.

When Twitter refused to back down, President Trump signed an executive order against social networking firms.

It should be noted that there is little chance this reform will be approval by Congress this year, with the Justice Department still formulating proposed changes.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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