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US Senate Subpoenas Heads of Google, Facebook and Twitter (bbc.com)
91 points by jonbaer 29 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 48 comments

Ugh. This is inevitably going to be based on a complete misunderstanding of section 230. Section 230 says that platforms cannot be held liable for the speech they allow on their platforms. Repealing it would only lead to more restrictions on what people can post. We should expect more of our Senators, but I can't say I'm surprised.


It is kiiinda hilarious, you are right. You know, the funniest thing is that in a divided government, there is no possibility of movement on this subject. The Republicans want one type of change to section 230, which would prevent the suppression of conservative-adjacent voices. On the other hand, the Democrats would like the opposite: greater responsibility of the platform to limit racist, sexist, and violent content. It seems like compromise on this subject is extremely difficult when the two sides want directionally opposite changes, and each controls one half of the legislative apparatus.

What kind of bargain could they strike? "Well, we're going to have YouTube ban sexists but allow unlimited racist content. Ok, deal?" It's hard for me to picture any amendment of section 230 that would be both material and palatable to both sides. Not to mention that there's the whole constitutionality question, where corporations have enhanced rights of political speech post Citizen's United, and any legislative infringement on that can probably be challenged all the way to the top.

The Republicans want one type of change to section 230, which would prevent the suppression of conservative-adjacent voices. On the other hand, the Democrats would like the opposite: greater responsibility of the platform to limit racist, sexist, and violent content.

I just want to observe that the position of "conservative" Republicans is to insert the hand of a central government to limit the operations of a private company, and the Democrats are taking the self-regulation stance, the "hands-off option," if you will.

The Republican position is arguably for more regulation, but the Democratic one certainly is. Requiring "greater responsibility of the platform to limit racist, sexist, and violent content" is definitely not a "hands-off option", rather the opposite.

Federal legislators on both sides believe that federal legislatures should have more powers, and they usually get them. That's the real history of American regulation.

They're conservatives, not libertarians.

While Republicans generally push for less regulation than Democrats do, for them it's more about protecting business profit, not about an ideal of non-interference (even if they may try to frame it that way for PR reasons).

I mean, they could remove section 230 protections, which is what the direction I've read seems they're looking towards :(

I don't think they will be able to come to an agreement on what exactly that means. I know that senators are short-sighted, but the "unintended" consequences of a decision like this are so near to hand that they hardly deserve the adjective.

> which would prevent the suppression of conservative-adjacent voices.

The existence of which there is no proof of. And which is entirely legal to do anyway, though short-sighted from a business perspective.

>Repealing it would only lead to more restrictions on what people can post.

...which so far appears to be necessary. Sure, FB announced yesterday that they are banning "LOL voting machines steal ur 401K" ads, but all of these announcements are really well past their sell-by dates, and Facebook has established repeatedly that they will be the last ones to do anything. I doubt we're ever going to "holy shit!" about them.

The problem is that this would apply to everyone, not just Facebook.

>Repealing it would only lead to more restrictions on what people can post.

From the right's point of view, that's the desired effect. The right is already being deplatformed. Removing 230 protections means everyone is deplatformed. That will kill their businesses as companies with 230 protection can outcompete them. Scorched earth policy.

However, this is only because the right wanted to classify these things as the public square, and therefore subject to first amendment protection. The left claims this is private business and not subject to first amendment.

A judge in the WeChat download ban case just handed Trump a public square ruling. It will be interesting to see if they do anything with that or continue with scorched earth instead. At this point, I think the right wants to see these leftist silicon valley companies punished, so a public square ruling may be too little too late.

I always found this to be a waste of time.

Senators and congresspersons ask a question, the executive starts to answer, the senator/congressperson interrupts because they have to move on to the next question for lack of time. They then yield. Repeat. Many questions asked, none answered.

Few things are as idiotic as this format, even taking into account the pharisaic nature of it all.

Ben Sasse (senator) wrote an interesting opinion piece a month ago: https://www.wsj.com/articles/make-the-senate-great-again-115...

The below is from the article which applies specifically to your point:

> Cut the cameras. Most of what happens in committee hearings isn’t oversight, it’s showmanship. Senators make speeches that get chopped up, shipped to home-state TV stations, and blasted across social media. They aren’t trying to learn from witnesses, uncover details, or improve legislation. They’re competing for sound bites.

> There’s one notable exception: The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the majority of whose work is done in secret. Without posturing for cameras, Republicans and Democrats cooperate on some of America’s most complicated and urgent problems. Other committees could follow their example, while keeping transparency by making transcripts and real-time audio available to the public.

The cameras have to do with the showmanship in the committee hearings, but not with the fact that oversight is what happens prior to and in preparation for the hearings.

As anywhere else, work doesn't get done in meetings, work that has been done prior gets approved or rejected in meetings.

Public meetings (with or without cameras, and even if the main public access is by public record) add showmanship to justify/excuse the action (or ones position for or against whatever becomes the committee action), but they aren't what puts the substantive work outside of the meetings. That's just how meetings, pretty invariably, work.

Which is all just proof that the only real "work" our Congresspeople actually DO is just campaign for reelection. Our government is deadlocked by campaign contributions and a lack of term limits. It will not improve until both are remedied. I know it's kind of pointless to post a comment as nihilistic as this, but it is what it is.

This is exactly right. The treatment of Secretary Clinton and Judge (now Justice) Kavanaugh before the Senate are excellent examples of how the cameras cause senators pontificate and castigate rather than gather information and form policy. If senators wanted information to make decisions, they almost certainly wouldn't be questioning CEOs but rather a group of representatives from each corporation most knowledgeable about their concerns.

S/Most knowledgeable about their concerns/coached by hired lobbyists

The issue with Congressional hearings is that not one person has recently been punished for perjury under oath. Actually press charges, convict, and levy a sentence and watch how the atmosphere magically changes. If the legislature continues to be something seen as having no teeth, this poor behavior will continue without end.

But it's not a waste of time, because the purpose isn't to have a cogent conversation about the issue.

It's to beat up on a CEO or two for 5 minutes and tweet out the clip to your followers. And for that, it's time well spent.

The senators may think so. But in theory, we sent them there to govern, not to grandstand.

The majority of those who voted them in don't know what those words really mean in the first place so I don't think it matters too much what they choose to do

Let's try to improve things rather than say "they're successful so who cares"?

Oh, I'm completely with you. I think it's a consequence of having been to larger cities (like in SoCal) for an extended period of time, but having been born and mostly lived in the MidWest sticks.

Simply put, for the majority out here, improvement is absolutely futile. They truly, genuinely, simply do not care. At most, if you can get through to them what's actually happening, you'll be glad to know that they'll quite happily want to double down on support of them, just to fuck people who want to "improve" things over.

I've personally become utterly cynical towards it. Leaded gasoline and paint, among other things, was just too much of a hell of a drug. It's going to take a generation or two and the majority of the current base to die out before improvement can happen. Very shitty reality. Some who haven't seen it will find it unfathomable, but I can't blame them.

I'm just trying to get the fuck away from all of this as fast as I can, though I'm failing miserably.

Sorry to be so pessimistic.

Very little of substance happens at these hearings. I watched several hours of the last big tech CEO todo in congress and all I learned was disdain for the interrogators.

I wonder what a Washington insider would say about them. What is their real purpose? It's obviously not information gathering, as letters are a more efficient mechanism. Publicity, sure, but for who? Who watches CSPAN? Is it a signalling mechanism to say, "Tech CEOs, we're really mad now?" Or are the senators following the news rather than driving it? I can't tell.

My best guess is that it's a soundbite generation mechanism. But that seems so cynical. It's a pretty brutish practice if so.

>I wonder what a Washington insider would say about them. What is their real purpose?

Direct the heat in public, pass the hat in private. Campaigns are expensive.

One theory is that recent presidential debate performance made a negative dent against Donald Trump, and the GOP needs fresh wind in the news cycle to shake things up.

Unfortunately I’m inclined to agree. Has any change ever come from this? It was certainly a nice show, but it seems to be mostly Zuck saying “Senator, yes, ...” for 4 hours. And then nothing else happens.

Or the CEO of Facebook explaining that Facebook runs ads. Or the CEO of Google offering tech support for a senator's iPhone.

Or even that Facebook and Twitter aren’t the same?

I agree. They should allocate a response time and the persecutor's microphones should stop working until the victim has had their entire time.

As Sir Humprey once said, official inquiry is not to find the root of the issue but to exonerate officials.

When the DOJ started the anti-trust case against Microsoft, they had been giving about $10K a year to politicians. By the end of the trial, and the resultant slap on the hand, Microsoft was giving $1M to BOTH sides. Nothing since then would lead me to believe that the environment is any different now, or that the outcomes will be any different, this time around.

To me, the REALLY depressing thing about our representative republic isn't that it can be bought -- when it was designed to be above such things -- it's that it can be bought so revoltingly cheaply, relatively speaking.

Since they're asking the heads of companies rather than their operations people, the senators who are running the show won't even get a good show.

Maybe we're going to get an awkward and idiosyncratic question about Rust as the highlight of the day (which HN loves despite the fact that the question came from nowhere and went nowhere). Or maybe the head of Google will teach senators how to use their iPhones, just like last time.

To what end?

Senate is full of old people that struggle with internet 101. The previous attempt to grill the zuck was a farce.

Google & co are in need of ass kicking but this is not the way

Subpoenas for people who regularly appear voluntarily, grand standing much?

From the article:

> The three chief executives had initially been invited to attend voluntarily, but declined.

Unclear who did the declining though. Maybe it should say "but they declined".

I think it's clear the executives declined. It doesn't make sense for Congress to invite them and then for Congress to decline.

This is going to be great. I don't think there's anybody left who actually likes the social media barons.


Freedom of speech and freedom of association are not abuses of power, even when liberals exercise them. These platforms are not acting above the law because, despite what you and many seem to want to believe, it isn't illegal for private companies to make decisions regarding the content they choose to publish or to moderate content on their platforms, and never has been.

Those are old school, and things change, 10x faster these days. The power they had on public opinion is unprecedented, they can essentially manipulate federal election these days with no trace, Russian is nothing comparing to these big brother companies these days. With great power there should be great responsibilities, for them so far, there are none.

> it isn't illegal for private companies to make decisions regarding the content they choose to publish or to moderate content

It is true that private companies are allowed to publish what they want.

But, if they are acting as publishers, then maybe we should treat them like publishers, and hold them responsible for the content that they publish.

If, on the other hand, they want to receive protections for acting like a "platform", then perhaps they should be required to actually act like a platform.

Those protections still don't prevent platforms from doing half the things conservatives complain about. Section 230 doesn't actually require platforms to be politically neutral, or to only moderate content which is strictly illegal.

> Those protections still don't prevent platforms from doing half the things conservatives complain about.

I never made any comment about what the law is. Instead I only made comments about what should be.

Those protection will prevent many more things if those protections are changed.

Literally the purpose of these senate subpoenas is to re-evaluate these laws.

> Section 230 doesn't actually require platforms

They will require more things if they get changed to do so, which is the entire point of all this discussion, lol.

Thats the point of all of this. To re-evaluate what these protections should be, and to engage in legislative action.

This is why people who really own these companies appoint nominal CEOs.

Who really owns facebook?

Zuckeberg, I guess. But when he gets older, he'll pick a CEO and vanish from the public scene, just like Brin, Page and Gates.

I presume he's referring to the secretive lizardfolk who live in the Black Marsh.

Pretty sure that's where pelosi made the bulk of her personal wealth. Not that she wasn't wealthy before hand, too....

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