The bosses of Google, Twitter and Facebook face the “political coup” of the US Senate

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey during his hearing with Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai by a United States Senate committee on October 28, 2020.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, green plant and navy blue suit; that of Google, Sundar Pichai, green plant and anthracite suit; and that of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, black suit and flowery beard. It is a leading cast which met on Wednesday October 28 by videoconference in front of the special committee of the Senate of the United States. For four hours, they were to debate possible reforms of section 230: an important piece of American law that frames legal liability, and the framework in which social networks operate in the country (in this case: Facebook, Twitter and Youtube).

Read our explanations: Facebook, Twitter and Google before the US Senate to answer for their responsibility for published content

Despite some attempts by Republican Senator from Nebraska Deb Fischer or Republican Senator from West Virginia Shelley Moore Capito to debate the substance of this central piece of Internet law, which some senators seemed to ignore, the hearing did mostly consisted of a long lament.

On the one hand, that of the elected Republican, who estimated, intervention after intervention, that Twitter, Facebook and Google “censor” Donald Trump and more generally the conservatives. On the other, elected Democrats denouncing a “Coup” the opposing party, which has a majority in the Senate, to twist the arm of social networks one week before the presidential election.

Basically, the two parties have largely stuck to their usual positions, summarized in one sentence by Mark Zuckerberg: “The Democrats accuse us of not moderating enough, the Republicans of moderating too much. ” Several senators listed examples of moderate messages they believed were wrongly – including Tweet from Donald Trump whose dissemination had been restricted by Twitter.

Sometimes unexpected support from Democrats

Particularly targeted by accusations of anti-conservative bias, Jack Dorsey has appeared on several occasions in difficulty, particularly struggling to explain the moderation choices of his social network about an article in the New York Post on Joe Biden’s son, based on documents of very dubious origin, and about whom Twitter has repeatedly changed its position.

Read also US elections: Twitter and Facebook limit the distribution of a “New York Post” article on the Biden family

Compared to other hearings, CEOs of major social networks, however, found support, sometimes unexpected, among Democrats. Usually very aggressive on issues of respect for privacy or moderation of hate calls, several elected Democrats have taken a principled position against a hearing “Which takes place literally a few days before a presidential election and whose goal seems to be to intimidate social networks to favor Donald Trump”, as summarized by Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal.

“The worst part is that this coup by the Republicans succeeded, said his Hawaiian counterpart Brian Schatz. You overcompensated and hired conservatives, granted special exemptions to right-wing voices. “” Hateful content is a real problem; a so-called anti-conservative bias is not ”, added Massachusetts Senator Ed Markley.

Sundar Pichai, October 28, by videoconference to the US Senate Committee.

Faced with an avalanche of accusations, very general or very specific, posed or exuberant, the three CEOs have adopted different attitudes. Jack Dorsey, visibly ill-prepared – he notably contradicted his company’s official position on negationist content – often replied in monosyllables. Mark Zuckerberg, at times evasive on questions of political bias, responded specifically on the measures taken ahead of the presidential election and the content that would be prohibited in the crucial period preceding the final results. Sundar Pichai, less directly implicated by Republican senators, seemed the most comfortable in the exercise.

In this very special atmosphere, Democratic Senator from Montana Jon Tester, very critical during a previous hearing in 2018 of Facebook’s privacy practices, almost seemed to apologize to the three bosses for their summons on Wednesday. “This hearing is a political coup. I know it, my colleagues know it, everyone here knows it (…). And yet, there are many, many topics we have questions for you about: privacy breaches, or disinformation on your platforms. I hope you will come back next year to answer these questions. “

Read our analysis: In the United States, the presidential campaign pushes social networks to a role of “arbiter of truth”


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