Zuckerberg Proposes ‘Thoughtful Reform’ Of Section 230 Liability

Mark Zuckerberg has published his written testimony ahead of his appearance on Capitol Hill, alongside the CEOs of both Google and Twitter.

All three will appear before Congress on Thursday to answer questions about extremism and misinformation on their services. It is their first appearance since pro-Trump rioters stormed the US Capitol on 6 January, which resulted in the deaths of five people.

The joint ‘misinformation’ hearing by two subcommittees of the House Energy and Commerce Committee will see virtual appearances by Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg; Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google parent Alphabet, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

Section 230

The tech executives are likely to be criticised by Republicans on the panel for what they allege are efforts to stifle conservative voices on social networking platforms.

Democrats are likely to be concerned about the spread of misinformation during the coronavirus pandemic and the US presidential election.

But one of the issues that is sure to be raised, are the calls from certain lawmakers for changes to a US law called Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This gives firms such Facebook and Twitter, immunity from liability over content posted by users.

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

It should be noted that the Section 230 legislation has already been defended by Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg, and Sundar Pichai when they appeared before a US Senate panel in October 2020.

Matters had come to head in the first half of 2020 when President Trump publicly clashed with Twitter, after it began applying a fact-checking warning to the former 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.

Trump sought to “remove or change” section 230 that shields social media companies from liability for content posted by their users.

Section 230 protections have been criticised in the past by other lawmakers on both sides of the pond, who feel that it gives social networking firms a free pass on things like hate speech and content that supports terrorism.

The Justice Department is still formulating proposed changes to the legislation.

Zuckerberg response

Into this heady mix, Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday has outlined limited reforms of Section 230, proposing that companies should have immunity from liability only if they follow best practices for removing damaging material from their platforms.

Ahead of the hearing, the House has published the opening statements from Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and Sundar Pichai.

Zuckerberg’s testimony is particularly noteworthy.

“One area that I hope Congress will take on is thoughtful reform of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act,” Zuckerberg is expected to say. “The principles of Section 230 are as relevant today as they were in 1996, but the Internet has changed dramatically.

“We believe Congress should consider making platforms ‘intermediary liability protection for certain types of unlawful content conditional on companies’ ability to meet best practices to combat the spread of this content,” he wrote.

“Instead of being granted immunity, platforms should be required to demonstrate that they have systems in place for identifying unlawful content and removing it,” he stated. “Platforms should not be held liable if a particular piece of content evades its detection – that would be impractical for platforms with billions of posts per day – but they should be required to have adequate systems in place to address unlawful content.

It remains to be been how Zuckerberg’s proposal will be received during the hearing.

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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