Those are efforts we were already aware of, though we did find out that Facebook, apparently, can’t decide when it should ban offensive pages like InfoWars‘. But the fact that the latest hearing was another wasted opportunity, just like Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance before Congress in April, isn’t completely Facebook, Twitter or YouTube’s fault.
Throughout yesterday’s session, Congress members from both sides of the aisle seemed to be more interested in their personal agenda. Republicans like Rep. Lamar Smith (Texas) talked about how he felt conservatives were being censored, accusing Google of blocking his searches for “Jesus, Chick-fil-A and the Catholic religion.” Democrats, on the other hand, said the committee should be having hearings on Russian election interference and Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin instead. “This committee needs to proceed with hearings involving the question of the Russian intrusion and stealing of the 2016 election,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California) said. “And I’ve come to a conclusion now that it was truly stolen. Dealing with these engines that have been effective for the United States on that issue seems to be a stretch and inappropriate.”
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-California) went as far as calling the hearing “dumb” and “stupid,” saying there were more important issues the House Judiciary Committee should be focusing on. “I served on active duty in the US military. I never thought I would see the American commander-in-chief deliver the talking points of the Kremlin. Are we having a hearing on that? No.” he said. “As we sit here today there [are] nearly 3,000 babies and kids ripped away from their parents by the Trump administration, they have not been reunified yet. Are we having a hearing on that? No.” Instead, he added, “we’re having this ridiculous hearing on the content of speech of private-sector companies. It’s stupid because there’s this thing called the First Amendment — we can’t regulate content. The only thing worse than an Alex Jones video is the government trying to tell Google not to do it, to prevent people from watching [it]. “
Meanwhile, Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) asked Facebook, Twitter and YouTube why the shouldn’t be regulated as non-utilities like hotels or clubs, which at a certain point have a legal liability for how consumers use their services. Goodlatte’s concern is that these social-media giants aren’t often held accountable for content that causes harm on their sites, including hate speech and the spread of misinformation. With Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, tech firms are shielded from liability for content posted by their users, though they do have an obligation to remove things like child pornography under federal criminal law.