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This election year is seeing increased attention and scrutiny regarding social media platforms -- and how they can be manipulated to spread misinformation. But the greater level of awareness hasn’t stopped the practices, either. And the battles over content moderation and censorship are increasingly partisan, as demonstrated by Wednesday’s highly charged Capitol Hill hearing. John Yang reports.
One of the ways this election is different from 2016 is the level of attention and scrutiny around social media platforms and how they can be manipulated to spread misinformation.
But greater attention and new measures haven't stopped those practices entirely either. The battles over censorship and content moderation are increasingly partisan.
As John Yang reports, that was the subject and tone of a highly charged hearing on Capitol Hill today.
Social media plays a big role in shaping modern political discourse.
Today, Senate Commerce Committee Republicans pressed their case that big platforms are biased against them, as they questioned the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google.
Senator John Thune of South Dakota:
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.:
Are the Democrats correct that you all are the legitimate referees over our political speech?
Mr. Zuckerberg, are you the ref?
Senator, I certainly think not, and I do not want us to have that role.
Republicans complained about Twitter's treatment of unfounded tweets from President Trump. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, who is facing a tough battle for reelection this year, questioned Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo.:
Do you believe that the holocaust really happened, yes or no?
Sen. Cory Gardner:
So, you would agree that someone who says the Holocaust may not have happened is spreading misinformation, yes or no?
It's strange to me that you have flagged the tweets from the president, but haven't hidden the ayatollah's tweets on Holocaust denial or calls to wipe Israel off the map.
There was also anger over Twitter and Facebook's initial restrictions on a New York Post article. It made unproven allegations about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his son Hunter, which the Biden campaign has denied.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas:
Your position is that you can sit in Silicon Valley and demand of the media, that you can tell what stories they can publish, and you can tell the American people what reporting they can hear? Is that right?
No. Every person, every account, every organization that signs up to Twitter agrees to the terms of service.
Democrats said the hearing, less than a week before the last day of voting in the election, was all politics.
Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin called on the platforms to be more aggressive in policing content.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.:
Tech companies here today need to take more action, not less, to combat misinformation, including misinformation on the election, misinformation on the COVID-19 pandemic, and misinformation and posts meant to incite violence.
Looming over social media? Calls to limit or repeal the law called Section 320, which gives online companies broad legal immunity for user-generated content and wide latitude to decide what does and doesn't appear on their platforms. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg:
The reality is that people have very different ideas and views about where the lines should be.
Democrats often say we don't remove enough content. And Republicans often say we remove too much. Some say that ending 230 would solve all of the Internet's problems. Others say it would end the Internet as we know it.
Issues that will continue to be topics of debate long after the election is resolved.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.
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John Yang is the anchor of PBS News Weekend and a correspondent for the PBS NewsHour. He covered the first year of the Trump administration and is currently reporting on major national issues from Washington, DC, and across the country.
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