WASHINGTON — Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Censorship, Suppression, and the 2020 Election” degenerated as Trump loyalists lobbed baseless accusations about platform bias and the election result.
Republican senators seized on the hearing, which they called to hear testimony from the CEOs of Facebook and Twitter, as an opportunity to spread election disinformation. They repeatedly accused these platforms of anti-conservative bias, even though there’s zero evidence for those claims. In fact, countervailing data points suggest that conservative messages measure the highest levels of engagement across Facebook.
The hearing included no questions from the majority about the actions these platforms should take to address the unabated spread of hate and disinformation over their networks following the election.
In the run-up to Election Day, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told his employees to expect fewer policy changes and content removals in the election’s aftermath. Following the election, Twitter has treated Trump tweets that violate its rules with a lighter hand. The platform now posts labels stating that the election-disinformation claims in Trump’s tweets are “disputed.” Twitter doesn’t hide the tweets behind interstitials as it did with similarly false Trump tweets before and during the election.
Free Press Action Senior Policy Counsel Carmen Scurato made the following statement:
“The Senate’s Republican majority isn’t taking the disinformation problem seriously and has instead turned this hearing into tragicomic political theater. They seized on today’s hearing to relitigate an election result that voters settled earlier this month. The senators’ squabbling over imagined election fraud and platform bias is a distraction — a missed opportunity to hold these platforms to a better standard in fighting hate and disinformation.
“Despite Facebook’s and Twitter’s claims of stronger enforcement against disinformation, unsubstantiated claims of election fraud are spreading like wildfire across their networks. False posts mushroom and morph and easily go viral.
“While the Senate majority is complaining about fictional fraud and bias, there are genuine issues at stake for our democracy. CEOs Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey must do much more to make good on their claims about defending democratic practices and norms. Rather than easing up, they must fix their policies and step up their enforcement. They must address the real harms to communities of color and other disenfranchised groups caused by the scourge of disinformation and hate spreading across their networks.
“Protecting social-media users from disinformation should remain a top priority. In the absence of enforcement, bad actors will weaponize these platforms at ever-greater rates to sow division and hate, destabilize our democracy, disenfranchise voters and poison our information ecosystem.
“Keeping Section 230’s good framework in place is key to maintaining platforms’ ability and right to check the facts, moderate and remove objectionable information. While some senators on both sides of the aisle are wrongly calling for an outright repeal of Section 230, such a drastic step would either punish platforms for their constitutionally protected editorial decisions or else force them to leave up all kinds of hateful, harmful and unwanted content.
“Transparency is also crucial, as is implementing the model policies developed by the Change the Terms coalition, which Free Press co-founded. By opening access to their algorithms and moderation practices, these platforms would help researchers better understand the grave impact disinformation is having on society. It’s time for these platforms to finally put the health of people and our democracy over profits and implement changes that bring their users together instead of driving them apart.”