90 Miles From Tyranny : 6 Takeaways as Facebook, Twitter CEOs Testify at Senate Hearing

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

6 Takeaways as Facebook, Twitter CEOs Testify at Senate Hearing

The CEOs of Twitter and Facebook returned Tuesday to Capitol Hill, this time to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

While focused on Twitter’s blocking of a New York Post story about the Biden family’s business dealings overseas and the social media giants’ immunity from lawsuit under the Communications Decency Act, the hearing veered into other topics as well.

The testimony came less than a month after the two executives testified before the Senate Commerce Committee.

Here are four major issues that emerged during the hearing as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey took questions from senators.

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1. ‘Tasks’ and Coordination

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., one of the staunchest critics of the social media companies, said that a Facebook whistleblower had contacted his office about an internal platform called Tasks.

Hawley said the whistleblower, a former Facebook employee with direct knowledge of the company’s content moderation policies, explained that Facebook’s censorship teams used Tasks.

As an exhibit, Hawley showed a Tasks screenshot that seemed to show communication among Facebook employees and those of other tech giants.

“So, as I understand it, Facebook censorship teams communicate with their counterparts at Twitter and Google and then enter those companies’ suggestions for censorship onto the Tasks platform so that Facebook can then follow up with them and effectively coordinate their censorship efforts,” Hawley said. “Let me ask you directly under oath, now: Does Facebook coordinate its content moderation policies or efforts in any way with Google or Twitter?”

Zuckerberg didn’t give a clear answer. The Facebook CEO first said that the companies provided warnings to each other about content regarding a terrorist attack, child exploitation imagery, or a foreign government that was creating an influence operation.

“That is distinct from the content moderation policies that we or the other companies have where once we share intelligence or signals between companies, each company makes its own assessment of the right way to address and deal with that information,” Zuckerberg said.

Pressed again by Hawley on whether the social media companies coordinated on content moderation, Zuckerberg said: “Senator, we do not coordinate our policies.”

Hawley again asked whether Facebook’s content moderation teams communicate with counterparts at Google and Twitter.

“I would expect some level of communication probably happens,” Zuckerberg said. “That’s different from coordinating what our policies are or our responses in specific instances.”

Hawley then asked if Zuckerberg would “commit under oath” to providing all mentions of Google or Twitter from Facebook’s internal communication platform known as Tasks.

Zuckerberg was reluctant to commit to anything.

“Respectfully, without having looked into this, I’m not aware of any sensitivity that exists around that, so I don’t think it would be wise for me to commit to that right now,” Zuckerberg said.

Hawley then asked: “Will you provide a list of every website and hashtag Facebook moderation teams have discussed banning on the Tasks platform?”

Zuckerberg responded: “I would be happy to follow up with you or your team to discuss further how we might move forward on that.”

Hawley noted that earlier in the hearing, two Senate colleagues asked about lists of individuals, websites, and entities that have been subject to content moderation.

“You have expressed doubt about whether such information exists. But you’ve also said now that the Tasks platform exists and that it is searchable,” Hawley said. “So, will you commit to providing the information you have logged on the Tasks website about content moderation that your company has undertaken, yes or no?”

Zuckerberg replied: “I think it would be better to follow up once I’ve had a chance to discuss with my team what the sensitivity around that would be.”

In a matter that is likely to come before Congress again, Hawley said, “So you won’t commit to doing it here.”

“We could have subpoena this information,” the Missouri Republican continued. “Let everybody take note that Mr. Zuckerberg has repeatedly refused to provide information that he knows that he has, and now acknowledges that Tasks has under oath.”

Hawley called the tech bosses the “robber barons” of the modern day.
2. Publisher or Platform?

Early in the hearing, Twitter’s Dorsey jumped into the controversy over Twitter’s blocking of the New York Post’s reporting on the contents of a laptop belonging to former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden.

Dorsey said Twitter established a policy in 2018 to prevent posting hacked material. However, after an internal review, Twitter realized the information was not hacked and that it was a mistake to block the news story, he said.

“Upon further consideration, we admitted this decision was wrong and corrected it within 24 hours,” Dorsey said, claiming that the Post refused to repost its story on Twitter unless Twitter corrected its error.

In the end, Twitter froze the Post’s account for 16 days over the reporting.

“We did not have a practice around correcting retroactive enforcement actions,” Dorsey said.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, later asked: “Is Twitter a publisher?”

Without equivocation, Dorsey asserted: “No, we are not. We distribute information.”

Cruz: “So what is a publisher?”

Dorsey: “An entity that is publishing under editorial guidelines and decisions.”

Cruz referred to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which allows digital platforms such as Twitter to avoid being sued for comments expressed by third-party users, saying:

Your answer happens to be contrary to the text of federal statute, particularly Section 230, which defines an information content provider as any person or entity that is responsible in whole or in part for the creation or development of information provided through the internet or any other interactive computer service.

Cruz then asked: “Was Twitter being a publisher when it censored the New York Post?”

“No,” Dorsey answered, and said company officials believed they were following the guidelines.

“If there is a violation [of company policy], we take enforcement action and people choose to commit to those policies and to those terms of service,” he said.

“Except your policies are applied in a partisan and selective matter,” Cruz responded. “You claimed it was hacked materials, and yet you didn’t block the distribution of The New York Times story that alleged to talk about the president’s tax returns even though a federal statute makes it a crime to distribute someone’s tax returns without their consent.”

Dorsey replied: “In The New York Times case, we interpreted it as reporting about the hacked materials.”

However, Dorsey didn’t say why the New York Post story could not be seen as also reporting on what Twitter at first thought to be hacked material.

Cruz followed up by asking: “Did you block Edward Snowden when he illegally released material?”

When Dorsey replied that he didn’t know, Cruz said: “The answer is no.”

“I understand you have the star chamber power,” the Texas Republican added. “Your position is, ‘Once we silence you, we can choose to allow you to speak.’ But you are engaged in a publishing decision.”
3. Feinstein Seeks More Aggressive Censoring

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking member of the committee, said Twitter must do more to prevent...

Read More HERE


  1. or a foreign government that was creating an influence operation.
    That is exactly what Zuckerberg is doing.

  2. My takeaway is that congress is an unsalted shit show.
    Until they repeal section 203 its all bread and circuses.


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