Three of Silicon Valley’s most influential chief executives find themselves at odds as lawmakers weigh measures to curb Silicon Valley’s liability protections.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is calling on Congress to “update” a crucial legal shield for the online industry, while Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey says lawmakers should show “restraint” in changing the rules, according to the executives’ written testimony for a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday, obtained by POLITICO on Tuesday. Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who’s also scheduled to testify, likewise encouraged caution.
The remarks show fresh daylight between three of the tech industry’s most recognizable leaders on a liability law that politicians of both parties want to pare back or revoke — efforts that Silicon Valley’s lobbying groups have mostly opposed.
Tech CEOs in the hot seat: Wednesday’s hearing comes as lawmakers examine a 1996 statute known as Section 230, which shields online companies from lawsuits for hosting, taking down or otherwise moderating user content.
Split in Silicon Valley: Dorsey struck a cautious tone in his written testimony for the hearing, urging Senate Commerce members to think twice before advancing “sweeping regulations” that could upend the internet. While Dorsey did not single out Facebook and Google by name, he said changing Section 230 could benefit larger “industry peers” that have more resources to comply with new regulations.
“Eroding the foundation of Section 230 could collapse how we communicate on the Internet, leaving only a small number of giant and well-funded technology companies,” Dorsey wrote.
Pichai similarly urged the committee to be “very thoughtful about any changes to Section 230 and to be very aware of the consequences those changes might have on businesses and consumers,” according to his written testimony.
Zuckerberg, meanwhile, warned that scrapping Section 230 altogether could have vast unintended consequences and lead platforms to “censor more content to avoid legal risk.” But he said he supports Congress updating the law.
“Section 230 made it possible for every major internet service to be built and ensured important values like free expression and openness were part of how platforms operate,” Zuckerberg wrote. “Changing it is a significant decision.”
“However,” he added, “I believe Congress should update the law to make sure it’s working as intended.”
Without committing to specific changes, Zuckerberg said he broadly supports legislative concepts aimed at boosting transparency on companies’ content decisions, as well as efforts to bolster “industry collaboration.” Dorsey, for his part, voiced support for requiring companies to publish “moderation processes and practices.”
Swift pushback for Zuckerberg: Jesse Blumenthal, who oversees tech policy for the libertarian Charles Koch Institute and its affiliate, Stand Together, struck back at Zuckerberg’s remarks, writing: “Large companies like Facebook benefit from regulatory barriers that keep competitors small and weak.”
“Mark Zuckerberg has in the past recognized that voice should be the paramount value for Facebook,” Blumenthal added. “I would encourage him to hold the line against outside interests lobbying his company to limit online speech.”
GOP pressure: The hearing comes as Twitter and Facebook in particular face mounting criticism from President Donald Trump and his Republican allies for initially limiting the distribution of a disputed New York Post article alleging direct ties between Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s business interests. Republicans have pointed to the incident to revive long-standing allegations that online companies are biased against conservatives, charges that Twitter, Google and Facebook deny and independent analysts have said there’s limited evidence behind.
In their written testimonies, the tech moguls reiterated that their companies do not make decisions based on political beliefs.
“Our Twitter Rules are not based on ideology or a particular set of beliefs,” said Dorsey. “We believe strongly in being impartial, and we strive to enforce our Twitter Rules fairly.”