Jack Dorsey said Tuesday that Twitter flagged 300,000 tweets in an effort to combat disinformation surrounding the presidential election this year.
‘More than a year ago, the public asked us to provide additional context to help make potentially misleading information more apartment. We did exactly that, applying labels to over 300,000 tweets from October 27-November 11, which represented about .2 per cent of U.S. elected-related tweets,’ Dorsey said during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
Of the flagged tweets, 456 were also covered by a warning message and limited in sharing capabilities. About 74 per cent of the people who viewed those tweets could only view them if they opted to after a label or warning message was applied.
‘We applied labels to add context and limit the risk of harmful election misinformation spreading without important context, because the public told us they wanted us to take these steps,’ he added in his opening remarks.
Dorsey was preemptively addressing questions sure to arise over Twitter flagging dozens of President Donald Trump’s tweets related to the election – especially those questioning the results.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey revealed Tuesday that the platform has flagged more than 300,000 tweets related to the 2020 presidential election
Dorsey shared this information as he joined a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing virtually to answer questions related to his social media platform
Dorsey along with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckberg joined senators for another hearing related to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which prevents their companies from being held liable for what their users’ post
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham said in his opening remarks: ‘Section 230 as it exists today has got to give,’ adding, ‘change is going to come’
In Chairman Lindsey Graham’s opening statement, he showed a tweet from Trump’s former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley questioning the validity of mail-in ballots, which was flagged by Twitter as misleading.
He also showed a tweet from Iranian Leader Ayatollah Khamenei denying the Holocaust, which was not flagged.
Social Media’s biggest giants again headed to Capitol Hill – virtually – on Tuesday to testify and face questions on Section 230 as Republicans lament Facebook and Twitter engage in selective censorship of conservative voices.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey faced verbal assails from lawmakers as Democrats focused on their platforms’ amplification of misinformation and Republicans on suppression of some of their biggest voices – including President Trump.
‘Section 230 as it exists today has got to give,’ Graham said, adding, ‘change is going to come.’
Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal, who joined the hearing virtually, agreed that there needs to be an overhaul of how social media is viewed in the eyes of the law.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, from being held liable for what their users post – instead acting as a third party for publication of any speech.
These tech giants, however, have implemented policies where they moderate what content is permitted and fact check specific posts, even if it does not include threatening jargon.
Zuckerberg insisted that the moves taken by Facebook to stop misinformation spreading, haven’t gone as far as some Democrats want because he doesn’t want to act as an arbiter of truth – further distancing himself from losing Section 230 protections.
‘We’ve created this independent fact-checking program where we work with more than 80 partners around the world to help do fact-checking because people in our community have told us they don’t want to see misinformation, but they also don’t want us to be deciding what’s true and false,’ Zuckerberg said during his line of questioning with Judiciary Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein.
The senators are deeply divided by party over the integrity and results of the election itself.
Prominent Republican senators have refused to knock down Trump’s claims of voting irregularities and fraud, as misinformation disputing Biden’s victory has flourished online.
Twitter has flagged dozens of Trump’s tweets related to the election, including his claim that he actually won over Joe Biden – who most media outlets called for the Democrat earlier this month
Trump said he won Pennsylvania due to ballots being excluded, which Twitter flagged with: ‘Multiple sources called this election differently’
They flagged other tweets from Trump claiming ‘widespread voter fraud’ with: ‘This claim about election fraud is disputed’
Graham, a close Trump ally, has publicly urged: ‘Do not concede, Mr. President. Fight hard.’
Zuckerberg and Dorsey promised lawmakers last month that they would aggressively guard their platforms from being manipulated by foreign governments or used to incite violence around the election results – and they followed through with high-profile steps that angered Trump and his supporters.
Twitter and Facebook have both slapped a misinformation label on some content from Trump, most notably his assertions linking voting by mail to fraud.
On Monday, Twitter flagged Trump’s tweet proclaiming ‘I won the Election!’ with the note: ‘Official sources called this election differently.’
Facebook also took moves to stop the spread of misinformation related to the election, including banning the group called ‘Stop the Steal’, which grew to 350,000 users in less than one day.
The group included Trump supporters who were organizing protests against the continued vote counting, which increased Biden’s lead in the days following the election.
The large group, organized through Facebook, echoed Trump’s allegations of a rigged election rendering the results invalid.
While the group was taken down, copycat ‘Stop the Steal’ groups began popping up on Facebook, and as of Monday, the social media platform appeared to have made them harder to find.
DEMOCRATS SLAM REPUBLICANS FOR ‘POLITICAL SIDESHOW’
Senator Richard Blumenthal, who delivered opening statements on behalf of Democrats Tuesday, slammed the hearing as a ‘political sideshow,’ claiming it’s not ‘serious’ and more of a distraction from real issues.
‘Their immunity,’ Blumenthal said of tech companies, ‘is way too broad, and victims of their harm deserve a day in court.
‘But this hearing is certainly not the serious proceedings that we need,’ he continued. ‘It may become a political sideshow, a public tar and feathering.’
‘The fact is that the purpose of today’s hearing seems as much to bully or brownbeat you, Mr. Zuckerberg and Mr. Dorsey, from taking even more responsible action by threatening cuts to Section 230.’
Throughout the hearing, Republicans focused much on Twitter and Facebook’s disproportional censorship of conservative voices while Democrats focused on the platforms’ spread of misinformation.
Republican senators also used their time questioning Zuckerberg and Dorsey to lament that their assertions regarding the election being ‘stolen’ are being stifled.
Democrats, on the other hand, continuously repeated that Trump’s claims related to the election were false – seemingly throwing it in Republicans’ faces that their candidate lost reelection.
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, who joined virtually, accused Republicans of calling the hearing to create a ‘political sideshow’ rather than actually hold a real conversation on repealing Section 230
Blumenthal is a huge critic of big tech companies, serving as a champion in the Democratic Party for internet privacy and safety – he is especially critical of Section 230, claiming it provides these platforms with too much protection.
‘A series of hearings on big tech is long overdue on anti-trust issues, on privacy concerns and Section 230. I have urged, in fact a break-up of tech giants because they’ve misused their bigness and power,’ Blumenthal said.
He suggested that Facebook be broken up from its subsidiaries WhatsApp and Instagram, and that consumers be given more protection over their data – as well as Section 230 reform going as far as a full repeal.
‘My colleagues seem to want to ignore the foreign disinformation campaigns intended to interfere in our democracy,’ Blumenthal said, attacking his Republican counterparts for not asking Zuckerberg and Dorsey questions about Russian interference seeking to help Trump’s campaign.
‘What we’ve seen here are fighting words, and hate speech, that certainly deserve no free expression protections,’ he continued.
ONLY TWO MENTIONS OF HUNTER’S LAPTOP AFTER HEARING ORDERED OVER IT
Surprisingly, Republicans only brought up twice the instance where Twitter and Facebook censored a New York Post story revealing damaging information about Joe Biden’s son Hunter.
Chairman Lindsey Graham said the platforms were acting as the ‘ultimate editor’ by limiting distribution, flagging the article and even preventing people from posting it or risk being locked out of their account. He claimed their editorialization proves Facebook and Twitter should no longer be protected under Section 230.
‘What I want to try to find out is, if you’re not a newspaper at Twitter or Facebook, then why do you have editorial control over The New York Post?’ Graham questioned early on in the hearing. ‘They decided, and maybe for a good reason, I don’t know, that the New York Post articles about Hunter Biden needed to be flagged, excluded from distribution or hard to find.’
‘That to me seems like, you’re the ultimate editor,’ the South Carolina Republican said. ‘The editorial decision at the New York Post to run the story, was overridden by Twitter and Facebook in different fashions to prevent its dissemination.’
‘Now, if that’s not an editorial decision, I don’t know what would be,’ Graham said.
The second mention of the Hunter Biden story came during Republican Senator John Cornyn’s line of questioning toward Twitter’s Dorsey.
He asked Dorsey under what authority he suppressed distribution of the story on Hunter Biden’s laptop, to which the Twitter boss said it was ‘under our terms of service’ regarding the ‘policy around distribution of hacked materials.’
‘We do not want Twitter to become a distribution point for hacked materials,’ Dorsey said.
In his opening remarks, Dorsey said that the article was originally prevented from being posted because Twitter assessed that it contained information that was obtained through a hack, which is against its rules.
He conceded that they were wrong in their assessment after it became clear that Hunter’s laptop had been turned over to the FBI and also to Republicans, who then leaked that information to The Post.
‘Well you do realize that by taking down that story, you probably gave it more prominence and more visibility than it even would have gotten had you left it alone,’ Cornyn said.
‘We realize that. And we recognize it as a mistake that we made both in terms of the intention of the policy and also the enforcement action of not allowing people to share it publicly or privately, which is why we corrected it within 24 hours,’ Dorsey defended.
SECTION 230: THE LAW AT CENTER OF BIG TECH SHOWDOWN
Twenty-six words tucked into a 1996 law overhauling telecommunications have allowed companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google to grow into the giants they are today.
Under the U.S. law, internet companies are generally exempt from liability for the material users post on their networks. Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act – itself part of a broader telecom law – provides a legal ‘safe harbor’ for internet companies.
But Republicans increasingly argue that Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms have abused that protection and should lose their immunity – or at least have to earn it by satisfying requirements set by the government.
Section 230 probably can’t be easily dismantled. But if it was, the internet as we know it might cease to exist.
Just what is Section 230?
If a news site falsely calls you a swindler, you can sue the publisher for libel. But if someone posts that on Facebook, you can’t sue the company – just the person who posted it.
That’s thanks to Section 230, which states that ‘no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.’
That legal phrase shields companies that can host trillions of messages from being sued into oblivion by anyone who feels wronged by something someone else has posted – whether their complaint is legitimate or not.
Section 230 also allows social platforms to moderate their services by removing posts that, for instance, are obscene or violate the services’ own standards, so long as they are acting in ‘good faith.’
Where did Section 230 come from?
The measure’s history dates back to the 1950s, when bookstore owners were being held liable for selling books containing ‘obscenity,’ which is not protected by the First Amendment. One case eventually made it to the Supreme Court, which held that it created a ‘chilling effect’ to hold someone liable for someone else´s content.
That meant plaintiffs had to prove that bookstore owners knew they were selling obscene books, said Jeff Kosseff, the author of ‘The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet,’ a book about Section 230.
Fast-forward a few decades to when the commercial internet was taking off with services like CompuServe and Prodigy. Both offered online forums, but CompuServe chose not to moderate its, while Prodigy, seeking a family-friendly image, did.
CompuServe was sued over that, and the case was dismissed. Prodigy, however, got in trouble. The judge in their case ruled that ‘they exercised editorial control – so you’re more like a newspaper than a newsstand,’ Kosseff said.
That didn’t sit well with politicians, who worried that outcome would discourage newly forming internet companies from moderating at all. And Section 230 was born.
‘Today it protects both from liability for user posts as well as liability for any clams for moderating content,’ Kosseff said.
What happens if Section 230 is limited or goes away?
‘I don´t think any of the social media companies would exist in their current forms without Section 230,’ Kosseff said. ‘They have based their business models on being large platforms for user content.’
There are two possible outcomes. Platforms might get more cautious, as Craigslist did following the 2018 passage of a sex-trafficking law that carved out an exception to Section 230 for material that ‘promotes or facilitates prostitution.’ Craigslist quickly removed its ‘personals’ section altogether, which wasn’t intended to facilitate sex work. But the company didn´t want to take any chances.
This outcome could actually hurt none other than the president himself, who routinely attacks private figures, entertains conspiracy theories and accuses others of crimes.
‘If platforms were not immune under the law, then they would not risk the legal liability that could come with hosting Donald Trump´s lies, defamation, and threats,’ said Kate Ruane, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Another possibility: Facebook, Twitter and other platforms could abandon moderation altogether and let the lower common denominator prevail.
Such unmonitored services could easily end up dominated by trolls, like 8chan, which is infamous for graphic and extremist content, said Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman. Undoing Section 230 would be an ‘an existential threat to the internet,’ he said.