Less than a week before the 2020 presidential election, three of the biggest names in tech — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey — will testify before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation about a longstanding law that protects websites from liability for user-generated content.
The committee unanimously voted to subpoena the men on Thursday. They’re scheduled to testify on October 29 (AEST), according to committee aides who spoke with Politico on Friday on the condition of anonymity. While the subpoenas are ready to go out, they will not be formally issued because the CEOs have voluntarily agreed to appear before the committee, one aide told the outlet.
Their testimony will address Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a key legal shield that protects tech companies both large and small from liability for most of the content their users post online. Codified more than 20 years ago, Section 230 has become a flashpoint over the last few years for both political parties, with Republicans, including President Donald Trump, contending without evidence that major tech companies quietly censor conservative content and Democrats arguing that websites should lose their Section 230 protections entirely for hosting misleading political ads, among other offences. According to Politico, the hearing will also touch on “data privacy and media consolidation.”
The hearing date, which falls just six days before November’s contentious presidential election, was reached after lengthy deliberations, a committee aide said. The tech CEOs originally pushed for a more far-off date, but after Republican committee members refused, they agreed to testify voluntarily if the subpoena authorisation vote passed.
“On the eve of a momentous and highly-charged election, it is imperative that this committee of jurisdiction and the American people receive a full accounting from the heads of these companies about their content moderation practices,” the committee’s chairman, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, said during Thursday’s session per the Wall Street Journal.
Both political parties are championing for integral changes to the legislation. Some proposals that have gained backing from both sides of the aisle include revisions to hold tech companies liable for user-generated content involving child exploitation or threats of violence, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. The PACT Act, a bill that would compel tech companies to be more transparent about their moderation policies and remove illegal content, has also garnered bipartisan support.
This will be the second time this year that top tech executives will testify before Congress. Over the winter, the heads of Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook appeared before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee to address federal antitrust concerns.