A couple of days ago I had the chance to watch a little of FaceBook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey give testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The title of the hearing was Breaking the News: Censorship, Suppression, and the 2020 Election. Zuckerberg and Dorsey were asked to respond to the Judiciary Committee because their platforms had applied labels to President Trump’s posts claiming victory in the recent election, as well as other issues. In addition, questions were asked about Section 230, a law that provides legal protection to media outlets regarding content posted by others. The Section 230 protections are controversial because of censorship.
Zuckerberg and Dorsey told the committee that they designed strong programs to prevent the spread of false information on their platforms. However, this mindset is giving rise to an exodus of mostly conservative people who are choosing to migrate to other social media opportunities like Parler and MeWe. In addition to censorship concerns, many users of FaceBook and Twitter are annoyed by advertising, unsolicited news, and articles from obscure sources. Personal privacy is also given as a reason for leaving, along with the realization that FaceBook and Twitter gather and store information about individuals. Questions about these issues were posed by the judiciary committee, but few clear answers were given.
Zuckerberg and Dorsey are both brilliant and of course they understand their business model and the technical details at a depth that the members of the Judiciary Committee simply cannot begin to grasp. This in spite of the fact that the Senators – whether they are Democrats or Republicans – have a high degree of intelligence as well. Many, if not most of these men and women are attorneys, some with skills related to the questioning of witnesses. And yet, watching the senators question these two men, I had the distinct impression that they really didn’t know what questions to ask, nor did they have the ability to force the two men to give direct answers.
The result? Zuckerberg and Dorsey ran circles around the members of the committee. They were skilled at weaving, ducking, and dodging the questions. They provided few answers and very little seemed to be accomplished, yet at the end of the session, Chairman Lindsey Graham pleasantly thanked the CEOs for their time. And I was left to wonder, what exactly did Chairman Graham and the rest of the Judiciary Committee accomplish?
© Jeffery J. Michaels / Plain English Publications 2020
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