Senate Committee Grill Facebook, Google and Twitter During Hearing on Local News


By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent @StacyBrownMedia

A Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation grilled the CEOs of Facebook, Google, and Twitter about how their companies attempt to control the spread of hate speech and misinformation on their platforms.

“You are testifying to this committee right now that Twitter when it silences people when it censors people when it blocks political speech, that has no impact on elections?” Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz railed at Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who appeared virtually alongside Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

“Twitter does not have the ability to influence elections because voters can find political information elsewhere,” Dorsey responded.

“We have policies that are focused on making sure that more voices on the platform are possible. We see a lot of abuse and harassment, which ends up silencing people and having them leave from the platform,” he continued.

Officials convened the hearing to examine Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and other legislative proposals to modernize the decades-old law, increase transparency and accountability among big technology companies for their content moderation practices, and explore the impact of large ad-tech platforms on local journalism and consumer privacy.

In a news release before the meeting, officials at The Democracy Fund Voice noted that, overall, the hearing would provide an opportunity to discuss the unintended consequences of Section 230’s liability shield and how best to preserve the internet as a forum for open discourse.

Ranking Committee Member Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) also published a comprehensive report framing the crisis facing local journalism across the nation.

The report, titled, “Local Journalism: America’s Most Trusted News Sources Threatened,” sought to emphasize the role of a free press in a thriving democracy, define the challenges facing local news outlets, and encourage bipartisan support for both short and long-term federal interventions to level the digital playing field so local journalism can flourish.

Cantwell argued that local journalism “is essential for healthy communities, competitive marketplaces, and a thriving democracy.”

Released on Oct. 27, Cantwell’s report predicts that by the end of 2020, newspaper revenue will be down 70 percent compared to 20 years ago, and broadcast revenues will dip more than 40 percent.

“The losses have created news deserts in 200 counties across the U.S. where there are no local newspapers covering their communities,” the Senator wrote.

According to the report, more than 400,000 newsroom employees have been laid off, 60 percent of the nation’s local journalism jobs.

“Local news has been hijacked by a few large news aggregation platforms, most notably Google and Facebook, which have become the dominant players in online advertising,” Cantwell wrote.

“These trillion-dollar companies scrape local news content and data for their own sites and leverage their market dominance to force local news to accept little to no compensation for their intellectual property.”

Despite the pandemic and other problems contributing to the decline of local news, Cantwell said big tech companies were complicit.

“They create a choke point for local news … and we have lost thousands of journalistic jobs that are important,” she declared.

“Local news has been hijacked by a few large news aggregation platforms, most notably Google and Facebook, which have become the dominant players in online advertising.”

Pichai offered that Google believes in raising news across its products because they realize the importance of journalism. He remarked that Google supports local journalism.

Cantwell proclaimed that local news needs to survive.

“The message from today’s hearing is the free press needs to live and be supported by all of us, and we look forward to discussing how we can make sure that they get a fair return on their value,” she said.