The CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google are set to face a grilling by Republican senators who accuse the tech giants of anti-conservative bias.
Democrats are trying to expand the discussion to include other issues such as the companies’ heavy impact on local news.
The Senate Commerce Committee has summoned Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai to testify on Wednesday.
The executives have agreed to appear remotely after being threatened with subpoenas.
Republicans have accused Big Tech’s social media platforms of deliberately suppressing conservative, religious and pro-life views.
The criticism intensified this month after Facebook and Twitter acted to limit the spread of a New York Post story about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, an unprecedented action against a major media outlet.
The story cited unverified emails to and from Biden’s son Hunter that were reportedly disclosed by Trump allies.
Social media giants are also under heavy scrutiny for their efforts to police what they consider misinformation about the election.
Twitter and Facebook have slapped a misinformation label on multiple posts from the president, who has around 80 million followers.
Starting Tuesday, Facebook is not accepting any new political advertising. Previously booked political ads will be able to run until the polls close next Tuesday, when all political advertising will temporarily be banned.
Google, which owns YouTube, also is halting political ads after the polls close. Twitter banned all political ads last year.
Beyond questioning the CEOs, senators will examine proposals to revise legal protections for online speech, an immunity that critics in both parties say enables the companies to abdicate their responsibility to impartially moderate content.
The tech platforms are gateways to news online. Critics say their dominant position in the advertising market has crushed the struggling U.S. news industry, especially local news publishers.
About 7,000 newspaper employees are expected to be laid off this year, and newspaper revenues will be down 70 percent from two decades ago, according to a report issued Tuesday by the committee’s Democratic staff.
“Local news is an incredible engine for the creation of accurate information. We don’t want to lose that infrastructure,” Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state, the panel’s top Democrat, said in an interview.
The Democrats’ report accuses the big platforms of unfairly using news content by taking news consumers’ data and diverting customers from local news websites, with little compensation.
It proposes that Congress enact rules preventing Big Tech platforms from taking local news content without fair payment.
“These unfair and abusive practices should be called out,” Cantwell said.
Democrats have focused their criticism of social media mainly on “hate speech,” misinformation and other content that can incite violence or keep people from voting.
The Trump administration’s Justice Department has asked Congress to strip some of the protections that have generally shielded the tech companies from legal responsibility for what people post on their platforms.
Trump signed an executive order this year challenging the protections from lawsuits under a 1996 telecommunications law.
Ajit Pai, head of the Federal Communications Commission, recently announced plans to reexamine the legal protections, potentially putting meat on the bones of Trump’s order by opening the way to new rules.
The tech industry also faces scrutiny from the Justice Department, federal regulators, Congress and state attorneys general around the country.
Last week, the Justice Department sued Google for abusing its dominance in online search and advertising — the government’s most significant attempt to protect competition since its groundbreaking case against Microsoft more than 20 years ago.
Facebook, Apple and Amazon also are under investigation by the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.