By John D. McKinnon and Ryan Tracy
WASHINGTON -- CEOs of two big social-media platforms hope to show senators Tuesday that their companies performed better in the 2020 elections compared with 2016, but they are likely to face hostile questions anyway.
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Facebook Inc.'s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter Inc.'s Jack Dorsey are expected to tout improvements their companies made in blocking or reducing misleading information in the 2020 election. That led to less interference, the CEOs are likely to say. By contrast, the 2016 election was marred by meddling from Russia and other countries.
Lawmakers still are likely to renew concerns from other recent hearings, where they have complained about the platforms' power and reach, as well as how they are handling specific election-related content.
Republicans were expected to say that the platforms continue to censor conservative speech, a charge that the platforms -- and Democrats -- generally reject. Democrats were likely to raise their own partisan concerns, including worries that some of the platforms' current content restrictions could interfere with their ability to get their message out in the run-up to a crucial Georgia runoff election in January that likely will decide control of the Senate.
The hearing also could point the way to action on tech issues in the next Congress.
"Despite today's political charade, we have a historic opportunity for an ambitious and bipartisan agenda in the next Congress," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) was expected to tell the CEOs in his opening statement. While praising what he terms "baby steps" by the platforms toward controlling misinformation and other ills, he adds, "You must do much more...You need to meet this moment and put your power and money on the right side of history."
Mr. Zuckerberg is expected to tout the success of Facebook's extensive efforts to combat misinformation and voter suppression, the company said. Mr. Zuckerberg was likely to note that the company partnered with election officials to remove false claims about polling information, and displayed warnings on more than 150 million pieces of content after review by third-party fact checkers.
The company also attached informational labels to content that sought to undermine the legitimacy of the election, Mr. Zuckerberg was likely to say.
Mr. Dorsey was expected to tell senators that Twitter's new policies for labeling or removing false and misleading information marked a big step forward, even though those measures drew complaints from President Trump after some of his own tweets were hit with labels. Mr. Trump's labeled tweets addressed mail-in voting, violent protests and the coronavirus.
Mr. Dorsey also was expected to note that about 300,000 tweets have been labeled for content that was disputed and potentially misleading.
"We want to be very clear that we do not see our job in this space as done," Mr. Dorsey was expected to say, according to excerpts of his testimony. "Our work here continues and our teams are learning and improving how we address these challenges and earn the trust of the people who use Twitter."
Both men also are expected to signal cautious support for measures to modify some of the legal protections that social-media platforms currently enjoy under a federal law dating from the mid-1990s. The law, known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, conveyed near-complete legal immunity to the platforms for the acts of their users, and broad powers to police their content.
In the wake of growing dissatisfaction with big platforms, lawmakers in both parties have begun considering changes to Section 230.
As in prior hearings, Republicans are likely to focus on Twitter, while Democrats are expected to be tough on Facebook.
Republican Chairman Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) announced the hearing before the election to "focus on the platforms' censorship and suppression" of articles in the New York Post that raised allegations against President-elect Joe Biden, which the Biden camp denied. Twitter initially blocked tweets of the articles, including from the Post.
Twitter later said it would allow posts about the disputed Post articles, which the Post said were based on documents obtained from the laptop of Hunter Biden, Mr. Biden's son, and concerned international business dealings, including in China. The Biden campaign has disputed the allegations.
The hearing also will "provide a valuable opportunity to review the companies' handling of the 2020 election," Mr. Graham's announcement said.
Democrats appear more likely to focus on the impact of decisions by Facebook and Alphabet Inc.'s Google unit to continue banning political ads on their platforms for several more weeks to diminish confusion about election results, The Wall Street Journal has reported.
The Jan. 5 runoff election in Georgia will decide two Senate seats and will likely determine which party controls the chamber after Mr. Biden is sworn in.
In one runoff, Republican Sen. David Perdue is facing Democrat Jon Ossoff, a documentary filmmaker. In the other, Democrat Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, is challenging Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler.
Democrats are expected to bring up other concerns. Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.), a member of the judiciary panel, wrote a letter to Mr. Zuckerberg Monday accusing Facebook of not doing enough to protect Muslims, citing a Facebook-commissioned civil rights audit that reported in July some Muslims feel "under siege" because of popular content demonizing them. Facebook has noted that the audit described progress as well as shortcomings.
Write to John D. McKinnon at firstname.lastname@example.org and Ryan Tracy at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires