2 min Applications

Zuckerberg breaks ranks to support section 230 reform

Facebook’s support for the changes could threaten the open Internet.

Almost lost amid the frantic news cycle leading up to next week’s Presidential election, a potentially momentous piece of news was made in the Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday, where the princes of Big Tech were summoned to face a grilling from US lawmakers.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testified for four hours on the subject of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This section provides a certain protection of liability for major Internet platforms such as the ones represented at the hearing.

Tech Giants adopt differing positions on Section 230

Committee chair Roger Wicker opened Wednesday’s hearing by slamming the tech companies for an “apparent double standard” that disadvantages conservative content on social media. Wicker called for changes to Section 230, which shields tech companies from litigation over their content moderation decisions. “The time has come for that free pass to end,” he said.

Google’s Pichai was noncommittal, simply asking the committee to “be very thoughtful” about any changes. But Jack Dorsey was more militant. He asserted that watering down the law would “collapse how we communicate on the internet.”

In addition, Dorsey warned, it would stop Twitter’s moderators from making users feel safe on the site.

Zuckerberg drops a bomb

Then came Mark Zuckerberg with a bombshell: Facebook actually supports making changes to the law.

“Section 230 made it possible for every major internet service to be built and ensured important values like free expression and openness were part of how platforms operate,” he said.

Changing it is a significant decision. However, I believe Congress should update the law to make sure it’s working as intended.

But then he added: “Changing it is a significant decision. However, I believe Congress should update the law to make sure it’s working as intended.”

The three Big Tech giants have vastly different views. Twitter is defending the open Internet and the laws protecting platforms so that they can innovate and grow. Facebook is agreeing to support changes that could make life more difficult for industry newcomers.

Many industry observers see Facebook’s position as highly problematic. As Mike Masnick at Techdirt put it, “this is Mark Zuckerberg pulling up the innovation ladder he climbed behind him.”