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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Thune: Facebook, Twitter CEOs Must Decide on Publisher Issue

Facebook and Twitter officials must decide whether their sites are a neutral platform used to host user-generated content, or if they are acting as publishers who filter information, Sen. John Thune said Wednesday morning before Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey were to testify virtually before his Senate committee. 

“We are very interested in hearing from the tech CEOs principally about how they decide, when they decide, to moderate user-generated content on their platform,” the South Dakota Republican, who chairs the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, said on CBNC’s “Squawk Box.” “Data privacy is a big issue and the anti-trust issue and concentration of market power in the hands of the countries and could get probed a little bit.”

Thune, along with Sen. Ben Schatz, D-Hawaii, earlier this year introduced legislation to change Section 230 of the Communications Act, which gives tech companies a liability shield, reports Forbes. Their legislation would force social media companies to be more transparent about their content moderation policies and to move quickly to remove content that is deemed to be illegal by a court. 

Thune said Wednesday he is sympathetic to the companies’ challenges because there is a proliferation of content and information on their sites, but the censorship issue is a “concern on both sides of the aisle.”

But it is time to take a closer look at Section 230, said Thune, including whether there should be a transparency requirement, such as if users should know why their content has been removed. 

“I think that’s fair play,” the senator said. “I don’t think that in any way steps on these company’s abilities to continue doing what they’re doing and doing it well.”

There are also questions from an antitrust standpoint about interlocking agreements and contracts, and on the exclusionary contracts such as Google has on its search engine. 

Meanwhile, social media sites have argued for some time that they are neutral, but “we found that’s not true,” said Thune, as there are cases where content is being censored. 

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