On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee authorized subpoenas for Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter ceo Jack Dorsey, requiring them to appear and face accusations of anticonservative bias.
Notably, the unanimous vote was a partisan matter, as all committee Republicans voted in favor during the session boycotted by Democrats, who were protesting over Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
Meanwhile on Thursday, Facebook’s Oversight Board, comprised of an external group of advisers, began evaluating content moderation cases, in order to help determine the types of content that may stay or get thrown off the network.
If the premise seems a bit flimsy, that’s because it is. While decisions on specific cases may be handed down by the group — Facebook said it’s “committed to enforcing the board’s decisions on individual pieces of content” — the social giant hedged on matters of policy. It pledged to carefully consider and transparently respond to policy recommendations.
In other words, this board merely makes suggestions that Facebook leaders will or won’t adopt. As always, decisions about how the platform deals with content are ultimately made by company executives. Add the fact that this board will reportedly focus on removed content only to start, not remaining posts that arguably should have been taken down.
The jury’s out on whether this move will appease Senate Republicans. But at this point, it’s not likely.
Officials on both sides of the aisle believe in the growing need to regulate social media networks. Left-leaning politicians tend to focus more on the outsized power and influence of these and other Silicon Valley titans, while on the right, President Trump and his allies have long claimed these platforms are skewed against conservatives.
The latter accusations reached a fever pitch when Facebook and Twitter attempted to limit the spread of a disputed New York Post story last week about Hunter Biden and his father, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
The issues erupting now arrive just days before the presidential election.
The groundswell of scrutiny aimed at Facebook and Twitter may be political in nature, but the effects may extend beyond that, forcing changes to how these networks approach user content in general.
Elsewhere in social media, one theory gaining traction is that the heated rhetoric coming from the White House against TikTok, a popular platform with roots in China, has less to do with national security than a grudge over a political rally this summer in Tulsa, Okla. At the time, TikTok users apparently trolled the Trump campaign, registering en masse and then skipping the event, setting up for embarrassing attendance.
The Trump administration had already taken a dim view of Chinese technologies operating in the U.S., but its attacks on TikTok ratcheted up shortly after the rally, with executive orders forcing the developer to either leave or sell off its interests in the U.S.
Meanwhile, Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has made overtures indicating that his agency will reevaluate Section 230, a key protection for tech platforms freeing them from liability over user content.
And that stands apart from antitrust probes lobbed at the tech sector, both in the U.S. and Europe, with more scrutiny likely to follow in Japan. Even before the latest subpoenas, Zuckerberg, Dorsey and Alphabet ceo Sundar Pichai were already set to testify, this time before the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday.
No matter who wins the White House this November, the scrutiny on tech giants isn’t likely to let up. Increasingly it appears that the old Wild West of the Internet, which birthed today’s social media landscape, has entered a new stage — one that may put limits on the tech sector.
And, depending on the outcome, that could herald changes altering how brands and other partners use or rely on these platforms.