If Jack Dorsey testifies in the Senate next week, the Twitter chief executive will have a chance to undo some of the political damage caused by his company’s clumsy response to an article about Hunter Biden, son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
But it also presents a moment of danger for Mr. Dorsey, which analysts say risks becoming the epitome of Republican complaints about alleged censorship of conservatives by social media companies.
Senators will vote on Tuesday on whether to issue a subpoena to Mr Dorsey following Twitter’s decision to restrict the New York Post article, which it said violated its policy on pirated documents. Officials expect members of the Republican majority to do so, and potentially issue one to Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook as well.
Analysts say the hearing, already scheduled for Friday, will give Republican senators a chance to express their anger at the industry in general, following a series of actions by Silicon Valley companies that have put angry those on the right.
Sam McGowan, research analyst at Beacon Policy Advisors, a Washington consulting firm, said: “This hearing is really about noise generation. All of these senators are looking for video clips of them grilling Jack Dorsey so they can use it in their campaign materials and energize their base.
Lindsey Graham, the Republican chair of the committee, said Thursday he expected the audience to provide a chance to give social media companies “long overdue accounting.”
Mr Dorsey will have to explain why Twitter decided to block New York Post reporting – even going so far as to temporarily ban President Donald Trump’s campaign account, as well as that of Kayleigh McEnany, his press secretary.
Twitter initially cited a policy of blocking pirated content, although that policy contains caveats for reporting on hacks and sharing private personal information. Mr. Dorsey then said Her company’s communication about the decision had not been “excellent,” before Twitter updated its policies, saying instead that it would only block content shared directly by hackers or “acting on it. concert with them ”. He also said on Friday that he would unblock sharing of the New York Post article, as any private information in the article was now widely available online and in the media.
Even some liberal commentators have warned the move was overzealous. “It was a really aggressive action that they probably can’t justify in the long run,” said Angelo Carusone, chief executive of the left-wing nonprofit Media Matters.
“They saw one thing that smacked of the wrong action, and they tried to shoehorn into a restrictive response,” he said.
The row has heightened Republican anger more generally at social media companies after a turbulent few weeks in which the industry has gone further than ever to curb disinformation, especially from the right.
Over the summer, Twitter angered Mr. Trump by adding warning labels to several of his tweets for violating policies regarding election misinformation, coronavirus falsehoods and incitement to violence. .
The company tightened its moderation policies, last week announcing additional restrictions on political candidates and others sharing misleading statements. He also temporarily suspended the accounts of Mr. Trump and his campaign in recent weeks for breaking the rules.
Facebook, meanwhile, has started taking action more recently on some of Mr. Trump’s posts, including deleting one for falsely claiming the coronavirus is less deadly than the flu. Both have movements announced crack down on pro-Trump conspiracy theory QAnon, as Youtube.
In response, high-level Republicans have started talking again about Section 230, the clause in a 1996 law that grants social media platforms immunity from prosecution for content posted by their users.
Mr. Trump called for the law to be repealed, and earlier this year issued an executive order asking the Federal Communications Commission to “clarify” when it should apply. Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman Mr Trump appointed, said on Thursday he would – though he’s unlikely to make any recommendations before presidential election, and maybe not at all if he leaves office later.
Republicans in the Senate are also pushing forward to change the law, working on a bill that would restrict when businesses should be granted Section 230 immunity, Senate officials say. Such a bill will likely build on proposals from Josh Hawley, Republican Senator from Missouri, that companies seeking legal immunity should be forced to show political neutrality, as well as separate suggestions Justice Department that they should be forced to justify the removal of any content.
Mr. Dorsey and Mr. Zuckerberg will testify in the Senate later this month on Section 230, although with Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, a bill is unlikely to pass.
Instead, some analysts believe companies like Facebook and Twitter are now taking more aggressive action against disinformation because they see a potential Biden administration as a more realistic threat than another Trump term.
While Mr. Biden has also spoken about repealing Section 230, Senior Democrats are more interested in both passing privacy regulations and reforming antitrust laws to facilitate compliance. challenge to the corporate power of Silicon Valley groups.
Mr McGowan, of Beacon Policy Advisors, said: ‘The industry wants to show that the self-regulatory model works and that they don’t need Democrats to bring in more regulation because they are taking these steps by them. themselves. “