The battle between Big Tech and the government has never been pretty. However, concerns about things like privacy and security continue to bring the two together. That trend won’t be ending anytime soon. On Thursday, the U.S. Senate Commerce committee voted unanimously to issue subpoenas to the CEOs of some of the world’s biggest tech companies.
Google’s Sundar Pichai, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, and (unsurprisingly) Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg were all named. Lawmakers reportedly want to discuss Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
This probably seems irrelevant to many people. However, Section 230 has recently come under fire on a bipartisan basis due to dangerous misinformation and hate speech being published online seemingly without repercussions.
Meeting on the Hill
It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time some of these CEOs have appeared before a government committee this year. In July, both Zuckerberg and Pichai virtually spoke with lawmakers alongside the CEOs of Apple and Amazon.
Facebook in particular is no stranger to Capitol Hill. The social media giant noted that it has sent executives to testify on various matters in front of the Senate Commerce committee three times in as many years. In the past four years, the company’s executives have testified in front of U.S congressional committees more than 20 times.
That’s certainly a telling sign that either something is wrong, or that lawmakers fear there is. If the subpoenas issued on Thursday are any indication, both may be true.
Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) says, “There is a lot we want to talk to tech platforms about, like privacy and anti-competitive media practices. I thank the Chairman for broadening the subpoena to cover these issues.”
Cantwell went on to say, “Section 230 deserves a serious thoughtful discussion. But the hearing should not be used to have a chilling effect on social media platforms who are taking down false COVID information or hate speech.”
In other words, it doesn’t sound like the Senate committee wants to attack the Big Tech CEOs. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see what the discussion turns into. That could largely be determined by an upcoming report regarding the committee’s views on antitrust allegations against four of the five FAANG companies—Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google.
The report is expected to arrive as soon as next week.
Focusing on Section 230
No one can argue that social media isn’t full of vile things like hate speech and misinformation. These issues run rampant on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Meanwhile, Google doesn’t always do enough to limit search results to only show reliable information.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects social media companies (and other online entities) from liability when users post concerning or illegal content. In recent years, it has come under fire from both sides of the aisle. Democrats have called for the removal of Section 230 protections. Meanwhile, Republicans and the Trump Administration have asked the FCC to reinterpret the statue. This is a rare example of politicians working together on an issue.
Although subpoenaing a handful of tech CEOs isn’t going to yield a resolution right away, it is a step in the right direction. The information gleaned from the hearings could have a major impact on how social media companies operate in the future.