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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Began Testimony Before Senate Committee with an Apology for Company’s History

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WASHINGTON, April 10, 2018 – After months of seemingly-unending scandal over his company’s role in the 2018 election, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg began his first of two days of testimony on Capitol Hill Tuesday by making it clear he was well aware of the laundry list of problems with the company he created 14 years ago in his Harvard dorm room.

“It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well,” Zuckerberg said while speaking at a rare joint hearing of the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees. “And that goes for fake news, foreign interference in elections and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy.”

The 33-year-old CEO, who swapped his trademark hoodie and dark t-shirt for a suit and tie during his first appearance on Capitol Hill – a venue he’d managed to avoid during years of smaller controversies over the company he founded – continued with something else not usually associated with him or Facebook: an apology.

“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. And it was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here.”

Facebook officials spoke with office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller

He also made some news as he confirmed once again that Facebook employees have spoken with  investigators working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose office has been charged with looking into Russia’s efforts during the 2016 campaign and determining whether or not that interferences was aided by Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

I know we’re working with them,” Zuckerberg said while declining to go into detail, citing confidentiality rules surrounding the investigation. He said that he had not been interviewed by Mueller or his team, however.

Over the course of more than four hours, Zuckerberg disappointed anyone hoping for a crack-up or a break in his composure as he fielded questions from 42 senators, invoking his company’s only-in-America origins to defend its frequently tone-deaf actions on privacy and its history-making failure in spotting and stopping efforts by Russia – and perhaps the Trump campaign — to manipulate American voters during the last presidential election.

While Zuckerberg told senators his company offered the Trump campaign the same assistance it would offer any customer, called the failure to stop Russia one of his “biggest regrets,” noting that getting the 2018 election right is one of his “top priorities” for this year.

While shareholders lauded Zuckerberg’s performance by driving Facebook’s stock price up by close of business Tuesday, many senators were not impressed.

Facebook’s history is dotted with apology after apology

Commerce committee chairman John Thune, R-S.D., noted Facebook’s history is dotted with apology after apology for what he euphemistically called “ill-advised decisions” on privacy matters.

“How is today’s apology different?” Thune asked.

Florida Senator Bill Nelson – the highest ranking Democrat on the Commerce Committee — promised action if Zuckerberg and his company fail to adequately tackle the problems posed by Facebook.

“If Facebook and other online companies will not or cannot fix these privacy invasions, then we will,” Nelson said.

Promoting new approaches to regulation on social media

Several Democrats took the opportunity to plug bills they’ve sponsored to impose some regulation on Facebook and other social media companies that make heavy use of user data, and while Republicans have yet to sponsor any, several said that could change.

Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., wanted to know if Zuckerberg would be willing to work with lawmakers in order to look at what “regulations you think are necessary in your industry.”

“Absolutely,” Zuckerberg said.

He later told Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, that he is “not the type of person who thinks that all regulation is bad.”

For the most part Zuckerberg’s response in the face of questioning was contrite, as he acknowledged that he and his colleagues “have made a lot of mistakes,” while promising to work harder in the future.

Sen. Ted Cruz tackles Zuckerberg over ‘political censorship’ at Facebook

Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, used his time for questions to grill Zuckerberg over about “political censorship” at Facebook.

Cruz cited an incident documented by GotNews.com, a conspiracy-focused site which claimed Facebook employees kept “conservative stories” out of Facebook’s trending topics list. The site suggested Facebook had blocked content from Diamond and Silk, a pair of African-American pro-Trump commentators who often appear on Fox News, and that Facebook fired Oculus founder Palmer Luckey because of their political beliefs.

In 2014 Facebook purchased Oculus VR, a virtual reality company.

Responding to Cruz’s question about Luckey – who gained some fame in conservative circles for purchasing a billboard suggesting Hillary Clinton be jailed – Zuckerberg denied bias had anything to do with his departure from the company and said the reason was not one that could be discussed in an open setting.

Other senators, however, appeared uncomfortable discussing technology-related topics, and were clearly reading questions that had been given to them by staff. Senators asked few follow-ups and Zuckerberg was able to deflect aggressive questioning by promising senators his lobbying team – which came with him in force by filling the rows of seats behind him – would get back to them.

No consensus yet on the need to regulate Facebook

Response to Zuckerberg’s testimony from outside the Capitol was not indicative of a consensus from both ends of the regulatory policy spectrum when it comes to the need for some regulation of Facebook and similar companies.

“Facebook clearly dropped the ball here, and some governmental response is justified, but Congress must resist the urge to pass knee-jerk legislation,” Berin Szóka, president of TechFreedom, a libertarian-leaning think tank, said in a letter to members of Congress. “At a minimum, the FTC may be justified in concluding that Facebook’s failure to notify users about Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of Facebook data constituted deception by ‘material omission.’”

Allie Bohm, privacy counsel at Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group that generally supports greater regulation of technology companies, appeared to disagree with Szoka’s assessment.

“In the twenty-first century, it is impossible to meaningfully participate in society without sharing our personal information with third parties. These third-party companies and platforms should have commensurate obligations to protect our personal information,” Bohm said.

“Unfortunately, it has become increasingly clear that too many third parties fail to live up to this responsibility.”

“This hearing is a good start to begin addressing corporate collection and use of user data in the modern economy. But, a hearing alone is not enough. We hope that the Committees will use this hearing to build the record for strong, comprehensive privacy legislation.”

Zuckerberg continued his Capitol Hill testimony on Wednesday, April 11, before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

(Screenshot of a video by Capitol Intel of the scene as Mark Zuckerberg testified before the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, April 10, 2017.)

Andrew Feinberg was the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined BroadbandBreakfast.com in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at BroadbandBreakfast.com from its founding in 2008 to 2010, first as a Reporter and then as Deputy Editor. He also covered the White House for Russia's Sputnik News from the beginning of the Trump Administration until he was let go for refusing to use White House press briefings to promote conspiracy theories, and later documented the experience in a story which set off a chain of events leading to Sputnik being forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Andrew's work has appeared in such publications as The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Washington Internet Daily, Washington Business Journal, The Sentinel Newspapers, FastCompany.TV, Mashable, and Silicon Angle.

Section 230

Section 230 Interpretation Debate Heats Up Ahead of Landmark Supreme Court Case

Panelists disagreed over the merits of Section 230’s protections and the extent to which they apply.

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Screenshot of speakers at the Federalist Society webinar

WASHINGTON, January 25, 2023 — With less than a month to go before the Supreme Court hears a case that could dramatically alter internet platform liability protections, speakers at a Federalist Society webinar on Tuesday were sharply divided over the merits and proper interpretation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Gonzalez v. Google, which will go before the Supreme Court on Feb. 21, asks if Section 230 protects Google from liability for hosting terrorist content — and promoting that content via algorithmic recommendations.

If the Supreme Court agrees that “Section 230 does not protect targeted algorithmic recommendations, I don’t see a lot of the current social media platforms and the way they operate surviving,” said Ashkhen Kazaryan, a senior fellow at Stand Together.

Joel Thayer, president of the Digital Progress Institute, argued that the bare text of Section 230(c)(1) does not include any mention of the “immunities” often attributed to the statute, echoing an argument made by several Republican members of Congress.

“All the statute says is that we cannot treat interactive computer service providers or users — in this case, Google’s YouTube — as the publisher or speaker of a third-party post, such as a YouTube video,” Thayer said. “That is all. Warped interpretations from courts… have drastically moved away from the text of the statute to find Section 230(c)(1) as providing broad immunity to civil actions.”

Kazaryan disagreed with this claim, noting that the original co-authors of Section 230 — Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR, and former Rep. Chris Cox, R-CA — have repeatedly said that Section 230 does provide immunity from civil liability under specific circumstances.

Wyden and Cox reiterated this point in a brief filed Thursday in support of Google, explaining that whether a platform is entitled to immunity under Section 230 relies on two prerequisite conditions. First, the platform must not be “responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of” the content in question, as laid out in Section 230(f)(3). Second, the case must be seeking to treat the platform “as the publisher or speaker” of that content, per Section 230(c)(1).

The statute co-authors argued that Google satisfied these conditions and was therefore entitled to immunity, even if their recommendation algorithms made it easier for users to find and consume terrorist content. “Section 230 protects targeted recommendations to the same extent that it protects other forms of content presentation,” they wrote.

Despite the support of Wyden and Cox, Randolph May, president of the Free State Foundation, predicted that the case was “not going to be a clean victory for Google.” And in addition to the upcoming Supreme Court cases, both Congress and President Joe Biden could potentially attempt to reform or repeal Section 230 in the near future, May added.

May advocated for substantial reforms to Section 230 that would narrow online platforms’ immunity. He also proposed that a new rule should rely on a “reasonable duty of care” that would both preserve the interests of online platforms and also recognize the harms that fall under their control.

To establish a good replacement for Section 230, policymakers must determine whether there is “a difference between exercising editorial control over content on the one hand, and engaging in conduct relating to the distribution of content on the other hand… and if so, how you would treat those different differently in terms of establishing liability,” May said.

No matter the Supreme Court’s decision in Gonzalez v. Google, the discussion is already “shifting the Overton window on how we think about social media platforms,” Kazaryan said. “And we already see proposed regulation legislation on state and federal levels that addresses algorithms in many different ways and forms.”

Texas and Florida have already passed laws that would significantly limit social media platforms’ ability to moderate content, although both have been temporarily blocked pending litigation. Tech companies have asked the Supreme Court to take up the cases, arguing that the laws violate their First Amendment rights by forcing them to host certain speech.

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Section 230

Supreme Court Seeks Biden Administration’s Input on Texas and Florida Social Media Laws

The court has not yet agreed to hear the cases, but multiple justices have commented on their importance.

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Photo of Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar courtesy of the U.S. Department of Justice

WASHINGTON, January 24, 2023 — The Supreme Court on Monday asked for the Joe Biden administration’s input on a pair of state laws that would prevent social media platforms from moderating content based on viewpoint.

The Republican-backed laws in Texas and Florida both stem from allegations that tech companies are censoring conservative speech. The Texas law would restrict platforms with at least 50 million users from removing or demonetizing content based on “viewpoint.” The Florida law places significant restrictions on platforms’ ability to remove any content posted by members of certain groups, including politicians.

Two trade groups — NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association — jointly challenged both laws, meeting with mixed results in appeals courts. They, alongside many tech companies, argue that the law would violate platforms’ First Amendment right to decide what speech to host.

Tech companies also warn that the laws would force them to disseminate objectionable and even dangerous content. In an emergency application to block the Texas law from going into effect in May, the trade groups wrote that such content could include “Russia’s propaganda claiming that its invasion of Ukraine is justified, ISIS propaganda claiming that extremism is warranted, neo-Nazi or KKK screeds denying or supporting the Holocaust, and encouraging children to engage in risky or unhealthy behavior like eating disorders,”

The Supreme Court has not yet agreed to hear the cases, but multiple justices have commented on the importance of the issue.

In response to the emergency application in May, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the case involved “issues of great importance that will plainly merit this Court’s review.” However, he disagreed with the court’s decision to block the law pending review, writing that “whether applicants are likely to succeed under existing law is quite unclear.”

Monday’s request asking Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar to weigh in on the cases allows the court to put off the decision for another few months.

“It is crucial that the Supreme Court ultimately resolve this matter: it would be a dangerous precedent to let government insert itself into the decisions private companies make on what material to publish or disseminate online,” CCIA President Matt Schruers said in a statement. “The First Amendment protects both the right to speak and the right not to be compelled to speak, and we should not underestimate the consequences of giving government control over online speech in a democracy.”

The Supreme Court is still scheduled to hear two other major content moderation cases next month, which will decide whether Google and Twitter can be held liable for terrorist content hosted on their respective platforms.

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Expert Opinion

Luke Lintz: The Dark Side of Banning TikTok on College Campuses

Campus TikTok bans could have negative consequences for students.

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The author of this expert opinion is Luke Lintz, co-owner of HighKey Enterprises LLC

In recent months, there have been growing concerns about the security of data shared on the popular social media app TikTok. As a result, a number of colleges and universities have decided to ban the app from their campuses.

While these bans may have been implemented with the intention of protecting students’ data, they could also have a number of negative consequences.

Banning TikTok on college campuses could also have a negative impact on the inter-accessibility of the student body. Many students use the app to connect with others who share their interests or come from similar backgrounds. For example, international students may use the app to connect with other students from their home countries, or students from underrepresented groups may use the app to connect with others who share similar experiences.

By denying them access to TikTok, colleges may be inadvertently limiting their students’ ability to form diverse and supportive communities. This can have a detrimental effect on the student experience, as students may feel isolated and disconnected from their peers. Additionally, it can also have a negative impact on the wider college community, as the ban may make it more difficult for students from different backgrounds to come together and collaborate.

Furthermore, by banning TikTok, colleges may also be missing out on the opportunity to promote diverse events on their campuses. The app is often used by students to share information about events, clubs and other activities that promote diversity and inclusivity. Without this platform, it may be more difficult for students to learn about these initiatives and for organizations to reach a wide audience.

Lastly, it’s important to note that banning TikTok on college campuses could also have a negative impact on the ability of college administrators to communicate with students. Many colleges and universities have started to use TikTok as a way to connect with students and share important information and updates. The popularity of TikTok makes it the perfect app for students to use to reach large, campus-wide audiences.

TikTok also offers a unique way for college administrators to connect with students in a more informal and engaging way. TikTok allows administrators to create videos that are fun, creative and relatable, which can help to build trust and to heighten interaction with students. Without this platform, it may be more difficult for administrators to establish this type of connection with students.

Banning TikTok from college campuses could have a number of negative consequences for students, including limiting their ability to form diverse and supportive communities, missing out on future opportunities and staying informed about what’s happening on campus. College administrators should consider the potential consequences before making a decision about banning TikTok from their campuses.

Luke Lintz is a successful businessman, entrepreneur and social media personality. Today, he is the co-owner of HighKey Enterprises LLC, which aims to revolutionize social media marketing. HighKey Enterprises is a highly rated company that has molded its global reputation by servicing high-profile clients that range from A-listers in the entertainment industry to the most successful one percent across the globe. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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