Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey face Senate grilling over moderation practices

By Brian Fung, Kaya Yurieff and Rishi Iyengar CNN Business

Updated 7:48 a.m. ET, November 18, 2020
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10:51 a.m. ET, November 17, 2020

Dorsey and Zuckerberg defend content decisions 

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

Dorsey and Zuckerberg opened their testimony by acknowledging questions about the way their companies handled political content, particularly surrounding the election.  

Dorsey said he recognized that Twitter made a mistake in the way it handled the New York Post story about Hunter Biden, saying the company quickly moved to update its policies on hacked materials.  

Zuckerberg said of the election, “from what we’ve seen so far, our systems worked well.”

10:34 a.m. ET, November 17, 2020

Graham gives accurate reading of controversial Section 230

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

Here's something worth noting: In his opening remarks, Graham described Section 230 in largely accurate terms. Normally a senator simply describing a provision of a law accurately wouldn't be notable but when it comes to Section 230, it is, because of how often the debate over Section 230 updates is often based on misconceptions of the law and its purpose.

Graham's opening remarks may show that he hopes the hearing will be perceived as a push for productive dialogue.

10:38 a.m. ET, November 17, 2020

Sen. Lindsey Graham kicks hearing off: "Something has to give"

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

Sen. Lindsey Graham began the hearing with a relatively impartial description of Section 230, correctly characterizing the law as having protected tech companies for their content decision-making. But he quickly pivoted to claims of anti-conservative censorship regarding an article by the New York Post about Hunter Biden.

Under the current law, "you can sue the person who gave the tweet, but you can't sue Twitter that gave that person access to the world," Graham said. He added, accurately, that exposing tech companies early on in their lifetimes to content lawsuits could have prevented great companies from coming into existence.

But then he said that tech companies enjoy enormous power rivaling governments and legacy media companies, referring to Facebook and Twitter's decisions to suppress a viral but baseless story by the New York Post containing unfounded allegations about Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden.

"I don't want the government deciding what content to take up and put down," Graham said. He added: "When you have companies that have the power of governments, far more power than traditional media outlets, something has to give."
10:14 a.m. ET, November 17, 2020

How to watch today's hearing

From CNN Business' Kaya Yurieff

The hearing is underway. There are a few ways to watch:

  • Tune into the Senate Judiciary Committee's site.
  • C-Span is livestreaming it here.
  • CNN is also streaming the hearing in the top corner of this page.
10:35 a.m. ET, November 17, 2020

Jack Dorsey touts Twitter's content moderation around election

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey will tell senators that the company applied contextual warning labels to 300,000 tweets between Oct. 27 and Nov. 11, according to his prepared testimony.

Of those, the content of 456 tweets were also covered up by a warning message, Dorsey is expected to say. Those numbers were shared by Twitter in a blog post last week.  

Twitter has witnessed a wave of misinformation as users including President Donald Trump and his allies have spread false and misleading claims about the election and its outcome. At one point, the social network applied warning labels to more than a third of Trump's tweets after polls closed. Over last weekend, Twitter affixed a fact check label to more than 30 of his election-related tweets and retweets between Friday and Monday morning.

Dorsey will repeat several familiar themes from his testimony last month, including expressing a commitment to greater transparency around content moderation.  

In response to proposals concerning Section 230, a federal law that grants websites legal immunity for curating the content on their platforms, Dorsey will warn that a repeal could lead to increased content removals and frivolous litigation while making it harder to address truly harmful material online. 

In something of a jab at Facebook, Dorsey is also expected to oppose updates to technology laws that are done via “carve-outs” that he claims will “inevitably favor large incumbents” and “entrench” the most powerful tech companies.  

“For innovation to thrive, we must not entrench the largest companies further,” Dorsey is expected to say. 

9:56 a.m. ET, November 17, 2020

A refresher on Section 230, the law everyone's arguing about

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

Once the hearing gets underway, we’re likely to hear a great deal about Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934, and why it should be changed. Here’s what you need to know about this pivotal US law.  

Originally passed in 1996, Section 230 grants tech platforms and websites legal immunity for many of the decisions they make about user-generated content. It holds that platforms — such as Facebook and Twitter — can’t be sued for material created by their users and posted to their services. And, it says, platforms can’t be sued just for suppressing or removing content they deem “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.” 

The purpose of the law, according to its authors, Sen. Ron Wyden and former Rep. Chris Cox, was to allow a then-nascent industry to grow up free from the fetters of federal regulation, and to give companies the freedom to moderate their platforms as they saw fit. 

You may hear some lawmakers claim that Section 230 requires platforms to be politically neutral. That is false and misleading. There is nothing in the text of Section 230 that calls for neutrality; in fact, the text of the law, and subsequent court decisions, have protected the decision-making freedom of private companies, up to and including decisions about political speech. 

Proposed updates to Section 230 could change that. But Congress will need to be careful to avoid drafting a law that compels tech companies to carry specific kinds of speech, as it could raise questions about the companies’ First Amendment rights.

10:10 a.m. ET, November 17, 2020

Zuckerberg: Facebook labeled 150 million pieces of content during the election

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

Mark Zuckerberg will say that Facebook applied contextual warning labels to more than 150 million pieces of content during the election, according to his prepared testimony – though he did not provide a specific timeframe. 

As many as 140 million people viewed the company’s voting information center, a hub for accurate information about the election process, across Facebook and Instagram, according to the testimony. 

Zuckerberg is also expected to claim credit for Facebook helping to register 4.5 million voters and for signing up 100,000 volunteers to be poll workers. 

In his prepared remarks, Zuckerberg will again call for updates to Section 230, a federal law that grants websites legal immunity for curating the content on their platforms, “to make sure it’s working as intended.” 

“We support the ideas around transparency and industry collaboration that are being discussed in some of the current bipartsian proposals,” Zuckerberg will say.  

9:05 a.m. ET, November 17, 2020

Democrats call on Facebook to enforce policies against anti-Muslim bigotry

From CNN Business' Brian Fung

Sen. Chris Coons asks a question to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a Senate Foreign Relations to discuss the Trump administration’s FY 2021 budget request for the State Department on July 30, in Washington.
Sen. Chris Coons asks a question to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a Senate Foreign Relations to discuss the Trump administration’s FY 2021 budget request for the State Department on July 30, in Washington. Greg Nash/Pool/Getty Images

More than a dozen Democratic senators sent a letter to Mark Zuckerberg on Monday calling on Facebook to “take immediate action” to enforce its own policies on incitement and discrimination against minorities, highlighting the company’s role in fueling hate and violence worldwide. 

The letter, led by Sen. Chris Coons and co-signed by Sens. Mark Warner, Amy Klobuchar, Richard Blumenthal, Dick Durbin and other lawmakers, highlighted Facebook’s role in fomenting political violence in Kenosha, Wisc. and in Myanmar. 

Citing the company’s independent civil rights audit, the senators expressed “deep concern regarding anti-Muslim bigotry on Facebook.” And they said despite the company’s claims of progress, greater transparency is needed from the company to evaluate those claims.

The letter pressed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to provide detailed country- and language-specific data about its enforcement efforts. 

“While pointing to its increases in country-specific staff and language-specific content moderators in certain areas, Facebook has declined repeated requests from advocates to provide detailed information about its country specific staff or language-specific content moderators across the world,” the senators wrote.

9:01 a.m. ET, November 17, 2020

Yes, Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg just testified on a similar topic

From CNN Business' Brian Fung and Kaya Yurieff

On October 28, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testified remotely during the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing 'Does Section 230's Sweeping Immunity Enable Big Tech Bad Behavior?', on Capitol Hill, in Washington.
On October 28, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testified remotely during the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing 'Does Section 230's Sweeping Immunity Enable Big Tech Bad Behavior?', on Capitol Hill, in Washington. Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

If this all sounds familiar, that's because it is: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey both appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee at the end of October, just before Election Day.

In the contentious hearing on October 28, the executives, along with Google CEO Sundar Pichai, were questioned over their content moderation policies. Some lawmakers demanded more transparency while others sought explanations on a few specific cases in which content was removed or labeled by platforms.

Though the hearing was meant to focus on a crucial law, known as Section 230, that protects the companies' ability to moderate content as they see fit, senators strayed from the central topic and confronted the executives on other topics, including antitrust, misinformation about voting and election interference.

Read more on the hearing here.