A Project for Better Journalism chapter

Social Media Guidelines Must Get with the Times


After social media companies like Google and Facebook are accused of pushing out misinformation and were brought before the Senate. People begin to question the legitimacy of such companies, and whether the information they are seeing on a daily basis is real or propaganda.

On October 28, 2020, CEOs of major social media corporations met with Congress to discuss their impact on American culture. Several key factors were brought up, but most importantly, the CEOs discussed how they would continue forward after the election.

Republicans and Democrats took opposite sides from the very start

Just prior to the election, it was clear this hearing would pull such events into the conversation. However, Republicans and Democrats had completely different goals going into the hearing. The Republicans believed strongly that social media was silencing conservative voices, such as flagging/labeling of certain content as abusive or restricting President Trump’s speech, especially when it came to tweets over the elections.

Democrats, on the other hand, strongly disagreed, saying that social media CEOs were not doing enough to safeguard their platforms from predators or people wishing to spread false information. They called for more labeling and fact-checking, especially in the case of Donald Trump.

Overall, both sides argued that social media needed to change, and it needed to change soon.

Section 230 was a major talking point

Section 230 said that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” For instance, if someone on Youtube says something racist, Youtube is not held accountable legally for that person’s actions. However, social media companies still have to have some way of regulating against hateful content, which is where the discussion comes in.

Mark Zuckerburg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, was asked about Section 230 and his answer was simple. He said that the law should be updated to allow for less transparency. What would often happen online was a company would purposefully prompt hate-speech and then hide behind Section 230 as a means to avoid penalty. If the law were more specific about its terms, the government could act faster to stop this sort of speech from spreading.

Three of the world’s largest social media outlets had seven minutes to propose their own ideas

Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, had a few steps to creating a healthier online experience. His first step was to create better “Services Publication Moderators” which would serve as “fact-checks” on Tweets or links shared through Twitter. Secondly, Twitter would appeal more to the users so that, like a democracy, users could decide whether a piece of information was misinformed or damaging and Twitter would take into account what its users had to say. Finally, Twitter would allow their users the option to turn off algorithms designed to give the user appealing content and filter out tweets.

Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, had less but more concise ideas. His first was for Google to keep less data on their users by default. In Google right now, it is an option to go into settings and disable data collection on certain aspects. However, it is turned off by default, meaning most people don’t even know they are being recorded. Secondly, Pichai reassured Congress that Google would remain “without political bias” in order to create an equal platform for every political viewpoint.

Mark Zuckerberg argued that there would always be contention over political bias within social media. Republicans and Democrats would always struggle to find an in-between. But for the time being, Zuckerberg said that Facebook works with experts across the globe to moderate their website. He even said it was important to work with Congress and hired 35,000 people to make sure the elections weren’t invaded by foreign governments.

Republicans grilled Dorsey and Zuckerberg for censoring conservative voices

Senator Cruz of Texas appeared on Zoom to accuse social media CEOs, mainly Dorsey, of censoring the American people. According to Cruz, Twitter was long known for censoring information in order to promote Liberals and their viewpoints. He believed Twitter even had the power to influence the outcome of an election. This all culminated under the censorship (by Twitter) of a national news story that would be detrimental to Joe Biden if it were proven to be true.

The Senator also pointed out that just weeks prior, when President Trump’s tax returns were leaked, they spread like wildfire throughout Twitter. Yet, despite it being a felony to spread tax returns against the owner’s will, Twitter “gleefully” allowed users to repost the leaks.

Brain Schatz appeared for a few minutes, arguing that the opposite was actually happening

The Senator of Hawaii had a few words to say about the hearing that had come so near the elections. To him, the hearing was nothing short of an embarrassment, arguing that Republicans were attempting to bully social media companies into allowing them to act freely online. In an attempt to come off as non-biased, CEOs had given Republicans more leeway, as well as meeting with major Republican voices and, as a result, had overcompensated their original intent.

The Senator then continued to list off several propositions made by both government Senators and President Trump, all of which would narrow the meaning of Section 230. He described this as a rally to promote false stories or spread conservative viewpoints, all in the lead up to the elections.

Overall, the hearing was incredibly tense on both sidesĀ 

Facebook and Twitter namely were argued with from both sides, both saying completely opposite things. Although the Republicans called the hearing to place and used most of their time to attack social media for their censorship, Democrats also came in strong, arguing that more censorship needed to be put in place in order to protect things like the elections. Whose side had the better argument will remain to be seen, and whether the social media CEOs listen will be another question entirely.