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House Panel On Tech Accountability Includes Pro-Censorship Advocates

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Ailan Evans Tech Reporter
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The House Energy and Commerce Committee is set to hold a hearing Wednesday on holding major tech companies liable for content on their platforms, and is due to feature several witnesses who have pushed for more aggressive moderation of online speech.

The hearing, titled “Holding Big Tech Accountable: Targeted Reforms To Tech’s Legal Immunity,” is focused on several bills intended to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides liability protection to online platforms for third-party content posted on their sites.

The hearing will feature several witnesses with histories of advocating for stricter control of online speech. (RELATED: Republicans Warn Of ‘Censorship’ From ‘Radical’ New Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal)

Rashad Robinson, who serves as President of non-profit Color of Change, is set to testify before House lawmakers. Color of Change has repeatedly called on tech platforms to censor conservative content, asking Facebook to remove anti-immigration ads promoted by former President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and characterizing the messages as “implicit expressions of whit e nationalism.”

The organization also pushed Facebook to censor “right-wing politicians” for spreading “lies, misinformation, and hate,” and formed a petition for federal regulation aimed at stopping tech companies from spreading “misinformation” and “hateful content.”

Robinson serves as co-chair of the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder, which published a report earlier in November calling for the federal government to “find ways to counter the polarization often fueled by disinformation, misinformation, and dangerous conspiracy theories online.” The commission also advocated for social media companies to ban misinformation “superspreaders” from their platforms.

U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) questions Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at a hearing on Capitol Hill on June 23, 2020 in Washington, DC. The committee is investigating the Trump administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)

U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) questions Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at a hearing on Capitol Hill. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)

The hearing also features former Facebook employee Frances Haugen, who filed whistleblower complaints against the tech giant and previously testified before the Senate on social media’s ills.

In her previous testimony, Haugen pushed to crack down on the amplification of “hateful” speech and “misinformation,” causing many Republican lawmakers to express concerns. Haugen also called for a dedicated federal regulatory agency to oversee the content moderation policies of social media platforms, and urged lawmakers to pass legislation banning personalized recommendation algorithms.

Haugen’s written testimony for the Wednesday hearing calls for federal oversight of “how Facebook’s products are used to influence vulnerable populations” and to  “correct the broken incentive system that perpetuates consistent misalignment between Facebook decisions and the values espoused by the majority of its users.”

Other witnesses include Karen Kornbluh, who serves as director of the Digital Innovation and Democracy Initiative at the German Marshall Fund. Kornbluh pushed for cloud hosting platform Cloudflare to delete 8Chan, a popular online forum, due to the purported presence of white nationalism and extremism on the site.

The panel will also consider four bills seeking to reform Section 230, including the Civil Rights Modernization Act of 2021, introduced by Democratic Rep. Yvette Clarke, which seeks to amend Section 230 by forcing covered content to comport with civil rights laws. The committee will also discuss the Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act, introduced by top House Energy and Commerce Democrats including Chairman Frank Pallone, that strips liability protections from platforms that recommend “personalized” content contributing to “physical or severe emotional injury” of a user.

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