U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene an executive session on Thursday, October 1, 2020, at 9:30 a.m. in Dirksen Senate Office Building 106 to consider the following measures:
- Authorization to subpoena the attendance of witnesses for purpose of a hearing:
- Mr. Jack Dorsey, Chief Executive Officer, Twitter
- Mr. Sundar Pichai, Chief Executive Officer, Alphabet Inc., Google
- Mr. Mark Zuckerberg, Chief Executive Officer, Facebook
*Agenda subject to change
Executive Session Details:
October 1, 2020
Dirksen Senate Office Building 106
A live video of the markup and additional information will be available at www.commerce.senate.gov.
*In order to maintain physical distancing as advised by the Office of the Attending Physician, seating for credentialed press will be limited throughout the course of the hearing. Due to current limited access to the Capitol complex, the general public is encouraged to view this hearing via the live stream.
Chairman Roger Wicker
Good morning. Welcome to the Committee’s 16th Executive Session for the 116th Congress. Today we convene on a matter of serious economic, social, and electoral significance. We will vote on the authorization to subpoena the attendance of:
o Mr. Jack Dorsey, Chief Executive Officer of Twitter;
o Mr. Sundar Pichai, Chief Executive Officer of Alphabet Inc. and its subsidiary, Google; and
o Mr. Mark Zuckerberg, Chief Executive Officer of Facebook.
After extending an invitation to these executives, I regret that they have again declined to participate and answer questions on the record about issues that are so visible and urgent to the American people.
This Congress, the Commerce Committee and other committees in this body have examined the growing and unprecedented power and influence that Facebook, Google, and Twitter have in the United States. We have questioned how they are protecting and securing the data of millions of Americans. We have explored how they are combatting disinformation, fraud, and other online scams. We have examined whether they are providing a safe and secure internet experience for children and teens. We have discussed how they are removing content from their sites that encourages extremism and mass violence. We have examined their use of secret algorithms that may manipulate users and drive compulsive usage of the internet among our youth. And most recently, we have reviewed how they are moderating content across their platforms and applying their terms of service and community standards to their users.
This Executive Session marks another step in fulfilling this committee’s obligation and responsibility to increase transparency and accountability among Big Tech companies who determine what millions of Americans read, view, and hear every day.
With over 4.5 billion internet users today, we recognize the challenge of addressing many of the issues I mentioned and policing obscene and other indecent material online. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, however, was enacted almost 25 years ago to address this very challenge.
Over time, this law has undeniably allowed the modern internet to flourish. It has helped usher in more speech and more expression, and limited the proliferation of truly reprehensible content. However, following repeated and consistent reports of political bias and the suppression of certain viewpoints, I fear that Section 230’s sweeping liability protections for Big Tech are stifling a true diversity of political discourse on the internet. According to a 2018 Pew study, seven out of 10 Americans agree.
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.
This is not a partisan issue. Both candidates for President today agree. In May, the President of the United States rightly questioned whether Section 230 has outlived its usefulness. The Democrat nominee for President has done the same, calling for Big Tech’s liability shield to be “revoked immediately.” One Democrat member of this committee stated in July that “there is no reason for these platforms to have blanket immunity, a shield against any accountability that is not enjoyed by any other industry in the same way.” This member also acknowledged that “there is a broad consensus that Section 230 as it currently exists no longer affords sufficient protection to the public.” And just last week, another Democrat member of this committee joined a letter to Facebook demanding answers regarding the company’s inconsistent enforcement of its content moderation policies.
With more than 150,000 people employed by Facebook, Google, and Twitter to manage daily operations, these CEOs can make time to spend a few hours with this committee. Their participation is required to reveal the extent of influence that their companies have over American speech during a critical time in our democratic process. I urge my colleagues to vote in favor of the motion to authorize these subpoenas.
I will now turn to my friend and Ranking Member Cantwell for her opening remarks. Senator Cantwell.
Ranking Member Maria Cantwell
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell
Opening Statement at Senate Commerce Committee Executive Session
October 1, 2020
Thank you Mr. Chairman, and thank you for this morning's discussion.
I actually can't wait to ask Mr. Zuckerberg further questions. I'm so proud that when we had a hearing before with Mr. Zuckerberg, I asked him an infamous question that's now part of a movie: “What was their interference in the last elections?” At which point, the woman who is a whistleblower inside the organization says to the camera, “He's lying.” So, can't wait to have Mr. Zuckerberg here again.
I think the issues that we are discussing of how we function in an information age are of extreme importance. I think the issue of privacy and also media domination by the platforms when they put their foot on the throats of local news media is also an issue. So I appreciate the Chairman's offer today of adding to the subpoena language both privacy and media as a discussion point we can bring up in the subpoenas.
What I don't want to see is a chilling effect on individuals who are in a process of trying to crack down on hate speech or misinformation about COVID during a pandemic. Part of this discussion will end up being about the fact that some of these social platforms have tried to move forward in a positive way and take down information that is incorrect.
I welcome the debate about 230. I think it should be a long and thoughtful process, not sure that a long and thoughtful process will happen before the election, but I understand my colleagues’ desires here today. So, happy to move forward on these subpoenas with the additions that the Chairman so graciously added. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.