Facebook (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to tell House lawmakers on Thursday that he hopes Congress will take on "thoughtful reform" of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a law that’s both lauded as foundational for the modern internet, and blamed for catalyzing misinformation and disinformation online.
In essence, Section 230 gives websites sweeping immunity from legal liability for third-party content posted to their sites, as well as from liability for moderating that content.
"Instead of being granted immunity, platforms should be required to demonstrate that they have systems in place for identifying unlawful content and removing it," Zuckerberg said in a prepared statement submitted to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which is scheduled to hear testimony from Zuckerberg, as well as Google (GOOG, GOOGL) CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter (TWTR) CEO Jack Dorsey.
Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have sought to air their grievances about whether social media companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter use the law to regulate speech on their platforms too much or too little — especially in light of the role of social media in the deadly assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, as well as the distribution of misinformation related to the last two presidential elections and to COVID-19.
A requirement for 'adequate systems'
While Facebook is making millions of dollars in investments to recalibrate its products to combat misinformation on its platforms, there’s no silver bullet, Zuckerberg said. For that reason, he added, opening up platforms to liability for third party content should not be absolute.
“With millions of Americans using our services every day, there will always be things we miss,” he said, noting that the majority Facebook content seen by its users is neither political nor hateful. Political content, according to Zuckerberg, makes up approximately 6% of what U.S. users see in their news feed. Hateful content surfaces approximately 0.08% of the time.
"Platforms should not be held liable if a particular piece of content evades its detection — that would be impractical for platforms with billions of posts per day — but they should be required to have adequate systems in place to address unlawful content," Zuckerberg said.
In some ways, Facebook's news feeds merely reflect the political divisions in the U.S., Zuckerberg noted.
“While we work hard to prevent abuse of our platform, conversations online will always reflect the conversations taking place in living rooms, on television, and in text messages and phone calls across the country. Our society is deeply divided, and we see that on our services too,” he explained.
Zuckerberg noted Section 230's role in creating the conditions that allowed the internet and platforms like Facebook to thrive. But he acknowledged that the law, which was passed in 1996, needs to be updated. An amended law, he suggested, could obligate websites to transparency and different standards proportionate to their platform size, set by a third party.
“The principles of Section 230 are as relevant today as they were in 1996, but the internet has changed dramatically. I believe that Section 230 would benefit from thoughtful changes to make it work better for people, but identifying a way forward is challenging given the chorus of people arguing — sometimes for contradictory reasons — that the law is doing more harm than good,” Zuckerberg said.
The three CEOs are scheduled to testify by video conference at 12 p.m. ET, representing the third time in the past year Zuckerberg has been called to answer lawmakers’ questions over the dominance of their platforms.
Alexis Keenan is a legal reporter for Yahoo Finance and former litigation attorney.
Follow Alexis Keenan on Twitter @alexiskweed.