But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle condemned Zuckerberg’s proposal on Wednesday as a political sideline and a malicious attempt to give the giant a competitive advantage.
“Mark Zuckerberg knows that resetting Section 230 will cement Facebook’s position as the dominant social media company and make it significantly more difficult for new startups to challenge their cash cow,” said Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Who co-wrote Section 230 as a Member of the House in the 1990s and has resisted efforts by Congress to push the law back.
Others, who were at the forefront of the legal shield revision effort, were also reluctant to accept Zuckerberg’s suggestion of what the legislative correction should be.
Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Who has proposed withdrawing protection to address concerns about alleged anti-conservative bias by tech companies, described Zuckerberg’s proposal as selfish. And she said Facebook should prepare for bigger changes – whether they like it or not.
“The reform of Section 230 will hit Facebook no matter what these self-serving Silicon Valley CEOs want,” Blackburn said. “Big Tech only wants reforms if they strengthen their power at the expense of the competition.”
Reps Anna Eshoo, D-Calif. And Tom Malinowski, DN.J., who reintroduced legislation Wednesday to hold companies accountable for reinforcing certain types of illegal content, such as civil rights violations and foreign terrorism, told reporters this with Congress shouldn’t fall for Zuckerberg’s move.
Malinowski said Congress should focus on making Facebook legally more accountable for the way it amplifies and promotes illegal material rather than hosting the content itself.
“This is a classic example of Facebook hoping we missed the point,” he said. “They want us to focus on putting out fires, not the fact that their product is flammable.”
Zuckerberg first endorsed the idea of updating Section 230 at a Senate Trade Committee hearing in October. There he suggested that the legislature consider proposals to strengthen “collaboration in industry” and to increase transparency about how platforms make decisions about user content. But his statements in the testimony, released on Wednesday, were the most detailed yet.
The problem has emerged as one of the main fronts in the battle between Washington and Silicon Valley. Legislators threaten to weaken or remove protection altogether if technology companies fail to address concerns about their content policies and practices.
Zuckerberg and a few prominent technicians – including Microsoft, Match Group, and Salesforce – have moved from largely opposing changes to proposals and endorsements of proposals they hope will sway lawmakers. Facebook’s testimony is one of the most detailed roadmaps the industry has offered to date.
However, House Energy & Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Whose panel will host Thursday’s meeting, said Zuckerberg’s proposal seemed more likely to sway public opinion than real change.
“He keeps saying he wants reforms, but he’s so vague,” said Pallone. “It almost seems like he wants to give the impression that he wants reforms, but when you get into the details it’s not at all clear.”
Smaller platforms and other tech companies like Twitter and Google, whose CEOs Jack Dorsey and Sundar Pichai will testify with Zuckerberg on Thursday, have raised concerns that weakening Section 230 protection could cause disproportionate damage to smaller businesses.
“The flexibility of the law has allowed businesses of all sizes to thrive and combat the damage unique to their platforms,” Internet Works, a coalition of smaller businesses including Reddit, Tripadvisor and Etsy, said in a statement Wednesday.
Zuckerberg appeared to nod at the concerns of smaller companies in his testimony, suggesting that any new Section 230 immunity requirements could be “proportional to platform size.”
The changes proposed by Facebook also resemble aspects of the EARN IT Act, p. 3398 (116), a bipartisan proposal to cut back section 230 by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) And Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). This legislation would create a commission to develop voluntary best practices for companies to curb child pornography.
However, Blumenthal flatly rejected Zuckerberg’s idea, calling it a “fake fig leaf that does nothing to protect victims or require real changes for big tech”.
“I’ve seen this game book countless times: Facebook, which has apologized for years while doing little, has read the room, sees real change is on the horizon, and is now suggesting gentle and mild changes around the edges, that do nothing else to protect the bottom line, “he said.
A Facebook spokesman declined to comment on the legislature’s remarks.
Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., Whose congressional district includes parts of Silicon Valley, said he was unwilling to endorse Zuckerberg’s proposal, but it was “constructive” for Facebook to talk to Congress about efforts to change the section to work together 230 instead of rejecting them.