Virtual brawl: United States senators grill social media CEOs

A United States Senate hearing turned into a literal virtual brawl on Wednesday as the most powerful CEOs in social media were taken to task by Republican lawmakers over how content is policed on their platforms.

The chiefs of Twitter Inc, Facebook Inc and Google parent Alphabet Inc testified virtually at the hearing examining whether to repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Section 230 shields companies from liability over content posted by users but also lets the firms shape political discourse. All three CEOs said the law is crucial to free expression on the internet.

Earlier this year, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order challenging the protections from lawsuits under the 1996 telecommunications law.

With less than a week before the November 3 US elections, the social media chiefs are facing charges of anti-conservative bias after Twitter and Facebook blocked a link to a New York Post story based on unverified emails about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Twitter’s chief Jack Dorsey later said it was “wrong” to block URLs to the Post’s story without explaining to users why it had been done.

But after Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said on Wednesday that his platform has no influence over the election, Republican Senator Ted Cruz launched a blistering attack on him before the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

“Twitter’s conduct has by far been the most egregious,” Cruz told Dorsey, citing Twitter’s limitations on the New York Post story as part of “a pattern of censorship and silencing Americans with whom Twitter disagrees”.

“Who the hell elected you and put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report and what the American people are allowed to hear?” Cruz asked.

Ahead of the hearing, the senator released a picture on Twitter titled “Free Speech showdown Cruz vs Dorsey” that showed him and Twitter’s Dorsey pitted against each other.

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