At White House’s urging, Republicans launch anti-tech blitz ahead of election

Trump has allies in the Senate dialing up their offensive against Silicon Valley's liability protections

10/1/2020 2:01:00 PM

The Trump administration is pressuring Senate Republicans to ratchet up scrutiny of social media companies it sees as biased against conservatives in the run-up to the November election. And the effort appears to be paying off.

Trump has allies in the Senate dialing up their offensive against Silicon Valley's liability protections

The Trump administration is pressuring Senate Republicans to ratchet up scrutiny of social media companies it sees as biased against conservatives in the run-up to the November election, people familiar with the conversations say. And the effort appears to be paying off.

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In recent weeks, the White House has pressed Senate Republican leaders on key committees to hold public hearings on the law that protects Facebook, Twitter and other internet companies from lawsuits over how they treat user posts, three Senate staffers told POLITICO. They requested anonymity to discuss private communications.

Advertisementhaving his committee vote Thursday on whether to issue subpoenasto the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google to testify about how they police content on their platforms. That's after the Mississippi Republican tried and failed last week to push through subpoenas that could have compelled the CEOs to testify with only a few days' notice.

Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), meanwhile, is holding a markup of new legislation on Thursday aimed at addressing allegations of an anti-conservative bias on social media. It’s the fastest any bill to revamp the legal shield has moved from introduction to a markup on Capitol Hill in recent memory.

Both committees are targeting liability protections that have been credited with fueling Silicon Valley's success. The provision — enshrined in a 1996 law known as Section 230 — has allowed online businesses to grow without fear of lawsuits over user posts or their decisions to remove or otherwise moderate users' content.

Both lawmakers have reason to want to get in the White House's good graces. Graham, a prominent Trump ally, is facing the fight of his political life to hold onto his South Carolina seat against Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison. And Wicker will want to maintain a firm hold on his gavel, which gives him jurisdiction over most legislation targeting Section 230.

The congressional actions mark a sudden and dramatic escalation of efforts by Senate Republicans to revamp the legal shield — particularly with a Congress readying for elections and embroiled in negotiations over Covid relief. But Republicans say Section 230 has allowed social media platforms to discriminate against conservative viewpoints with impunity. Tech companies deny any such bias, and the administration itself has noted there's limited academic data to back up the concerns.

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Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a top Trump ally on tech and longtime critic of Section 230, called the recent surge of activity by his colleagues "a sea change." President Donald Trump, he said, has been a driving force in rallying them.“There’s hardly a conversation I have with the president where this doesn’t come up, where Section 230 does not come up, usually raised by him,” Hawley said in an interview. “It is much on his mind and I think his strong stance on this issue has had a big effect in opening the eyes of some of my Republican colleagues to realize this is a major issue.”

Trump has taken his own steps to weaken Silicon Valley's standing after Twitter began adding fact-check and warning labels to some of his tweets.The president issued an executive order in May asking his independent agencies to crack down on the liability protections, and has taken an active role in seeking results. He has pulled in agency heads for discussions over how to implement the executive order and he nominated to the Federal Communications Commission a Commerce Department staffer who help craft an administration petition to narrow Section 230 protections.

Read more: POLITICO »

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