The tech platforms, which had already faced intense pressure to beat back misinformation and foreign interference leading up to the 2020 election, came under greater scrutiny in the following months. Even as some of the companies rolled out new steps to crack down on election conspiracy theories, it wasn’t enough to keep hardline supporters of President Donald Trump from storming the US Capitol.
The hearing also marks the CEOs’ first time back before Congress since Trump was banned or suspended from their respective platforms following the Capitol riots. In their prepared remarks, some of the executives address the events of Jan. 6 head on.
“The Capitol attack was a horrific assault on our values and our democracy, and Facebook is committed to assisting law enforcement in bringing the insurrectionists to justice,” Zuckerberg’s testimony reads. But Zuckerberg also adds, “we do more to address misinformation than any other company.”
The hearings coincide with legislation under active consideration in both the House and Senate to rein in the tech industry. Some bills target companies’ economic dominance and alleged anti-competitive practices. Others zero in on the platforms’ approach to content moderation or data privacy. The various proposals could introduce tough new requirements for tech platforms, or expose them to greater legal liability in ways that may reshape the industry.
For the executives in the hotseat, Thursday’s session may also be their last chance to make a case personally to lawmakers before Congress embarks on potentially sweeping changes to federal law.
At the heart of the coming policy battle is Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934, the signature liability shield that grants websites legal immunity for much of the content posted by their users. Members of both parties have called for updates to the law, which has been interpreted broadly by the courts and is credited with the development of the open internet.
The CEOs’ written testimony ahead of the high-profile hearing Thursday sketches out areas of potential common ground with lawmakers and hints at areas where the companies intend to work with Congress — and areas where Big Tech is likely to push back.
But those claims of progress aren’t likely to appease committee members, whose memo cited several research papers indicating that misinformation and extremism are still rampant on the platforms.