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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Can Congress unite on Section 230 reform? This top Democrat has hope.

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Happy Wednesday! Below: A major civil rights group comes out against Biden's FCC pick and more on Twitter's new CEO. But first:

Can Congress unite on Section 230 reform? This top Democrat has hope.

Democrats and Republicans have long feuded over how social media companies police content on their platforms, with liberals calling for more aggressive enforcement against hate speech and misinformation, and conservatives decrying crackdowns on their posts. 

That partisan feuding has made it substantially harder for lawmakers to advance legislation that many of them say is sorely needed — to revamp the legal protections that shield digital platforms from liability over user content, known as Section 230.

But there’s still optimism about Congress' ability to overcome those divisions.

Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), whose House panel is holding a legislative hearing on that law Wednesday, said those disagreements let tech companies off the hook, and he’s tired of the debate about changing Section 230 going nowhere on Capitol Hill.

“The fact that this has been discussed and debated and [we’ve] had hearings ad nauseam and Congress has not acted is not acceptable to me,” he told The Technology 202 during a phone interview Tuesday. “So my goal at this hearing is to start moving legislation forward.”

To do that, Doyle said, he plans to focus on areas where Democrats and Republicans can get on the same page about overhauling Section 230, including on the concepts behind what he called his “content neutral” bill to hold platforms accountable for recommending harmful posts.

Tech industry leaders and civil society groups credit the law with paving the way for the modern Internet, but critics argue it has allowed platforms to dodge responsibility for their policies and practices. Changing the law would require getting a bill through the Senate, however, likely necessitating bipartisan buy-in.

The two sides aren’t starting from scratch: Democrats have introduced a series of bills to hold platforms responsible for amplifying content that leads to real-world harm, and Republicans have unveiled a slate of draft Section 230 bills targeting child exploitation, terrorism, cyberbullying and more. Some bipartisan proposals have already been introduced, too. 

Doyle said he thinks there may be enough “commonality” between Democratic and Republican proposals to put together and advance legislation with bipartisan support. He cited efforts on both sides of the aisle to revamp Section 230 to address concerns about platforms algorithmically amplifying content to users and enabling things like terrorism as examples of common ground.

And he said he’s made it clear to his Republican counterparts on the House Energy and Commerce Committee that his goal is to get legislation signed into law — not to just pass a Democratic-only bill that won’t go anywhere in the evenly split Senate.

“We're not just going to throw bills out and throw them to the floor and pass them in the House and watch them die. That's not the goal here,” he said. “The goal is to work with them and get a bill out that both Republicans and Democrats can support and hopefully move through the Senate.”

But both sides say they are still waiting for the other to kick-start talks.

Only four Democratic-only bills were formally listed for consideration ahead of the hearing. Doyle said that’s because Republicans haven’t formally introduced their discussion drafts yet.

“We’ve encouraged them to put these discussion drafts in bill form, and we want to bring those proposals up, too,” he said. “We’re really looking to work with our Republican colleagues to finally address this situation.”

Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), Doyle’s Republican counterpart on the communications and technology subcommittee, said they put out discussion draft bills and asked for public comment on them in an effort to create a “good work product.” 

Latta said Republicans have “reached out to the Democrats” for input on them, and while he wants to work across the aisle, he thinks the two sides still may not see eye to eye.

“We want to work with them, and we want to make sure that we can go forward on this Section 230,” Latta said during an interview Tuesday. “But at the same time, you know, we have differences as to what they might want, and what we believe needs to happen.”

Latta said Republicans want to “make sure that we have free speech out there on the Internet, things aren’t being taken down, that there is transparency, there is accountability.”

According to his prepared remarks for the hearing, Latta plans to say that at “every step of the way” Republicans have “encouraged our Democratic colleagues to join us in this quest to hold Big Tech accountable.” Latta will also say he is “concerned” that some of the Democratic bills “could lead to unintended consequences, like curtailing free speech and innovation.”

The remarks don’t bode well for the prospect of bipartisanship. Both sides can agree on one thing though: time is of the essence.

“The clock is ticking. Obviously next year we get into election season, and you know, if you’ve been around a while … it gets tough to pass tough legislation in an election year,” Doyle said. “But I think there is a will on both sides of the aisle to make some reforms to Section 230.”

Our top tabs

Twitter’s new CEO is bringing an engineering background to a politics fight

At a Tuesday all-staff meeting, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey touted new CEO Parag Agrawal’s engineering chops and his decade of rising through the ranks of the social media company, Will Oremus and Elizabeth Dwoskin report

Several Twitter insiders told Will and Lizza that the choice of Agrawal to lead the company was unexpected as he spent most of his time at the company without direct subordinates, has no management experience outside of Twitter and has limited experience in the thorny questions about what content should remain on the site. Agrawal also has limited experience in navigating political issues. 

“Instead, insiders believe his formidable engineering chops, his alignment with Dorsey’s vision of a ‘decentralized’ future for social media, and his relatively uncontroversial reputation within the company helped to make him the choice over other, perhaps more obvious internal candidates in a closely guarded and opaque succession process,” Will and Lizza writes.

One Twitter employee told Will and Lizza that “people seem generally happy about Parag, but mostly because he’s the best choice among a bunch of bad options.”

A major U.S. Latino civil rights group is opposing Biden's pick to be an FCC commissioner

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) argued in a letter objecting to Gigi Sohn's FCC nomination that her "past actions have supported large technology companies in ways that have hindered small, independent Latino-owned media companies and has jeopardized Latino content creators,” according to a letter obtained by The Technology 202. It's an argument that could resonate with senators who have advocated for greater diversity in media.

The opposition by the group, the oldest Latino civil rights group in the country, comes as Sohn faces lawmakers at a nomination hearing Wednesday. Other prominent civil rights groups have supported Sohn, along with top executives from some prominent right-wing media outlets including One America News and Newsmax.

“We are concerned by the eager public support by some extremist conservative media platforms who have endorsed Ms. Sohn’s nomination and whose support she has yet to publicly reject,” LULAC President Domingo Garcia and CEO Sindy M. Benavides wrote to lawmakers on the Senate Commerce Committee.

White House spokesman Chris Meagher said Wednesday in response to the letter, “Gigi Sohn is extremely qualified for the position, and the White House continues to strongly back her nomination.”

A spokeswoman for Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who leads the Senate Commerce Committee, did not offer comment. Sohn and LULAC did not respond to a request for comment.

The Anti-Defamation League wants Facebook to take additional steps to combat Holocaust denial

Holocaust deniers used workarounds to get around Facebook's policy banning content that “denies or distorts” the Holocaust, the Anti-Defamation League said. The group called on Facebook to remove old posts that would have violated the policy and take additional steps to limit the content, including by expanding the search terms it uses to find Holocaust-denying content and forbidding users to link to external Holocaust-denying pages.

“We’ve made substantial progress in fighting Holocaust denial on Facebook by implementing a policy prohibiting it and enforcing against these hateful lies in every country around the world, which this report acknowledges,” said Andy Stone, a spokesman for Facebook parent Meta. “We're also going further by educating people on Facebook with authoritative information about the Holocaust when someone searches for terms associated with it. We are reviewing the content mentioned in this report and will continue working to keep Holocaust denial off of our platform.”

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called on Facebook and other social media companies, which weren’t named in the report, to:

  • Boost their human content moderation teams
  • Seek the advice of subject matter experts
  • Give users information about why their posts violate the rules
  • Make product choices that prioritize safety over engagement

Rant and rave

David Marcus, who was in charge of Facebook parent Meta's cryptocurrency push, is leaving the company. The New York Times's Cecilia Kang:

CNET's Queenie Wong:

New York Times Opinion podcast host and contributing writer Kara Swisher:

Workforce report

Judge orders Google to disclose secret anti-union documents (Motherboard)

Amazon faces new pressure over COVID protections in warehouses (The Verge)

Microsoft shareholders force company to disclose sexual harassment data (Wall Street Journal)

Inside the industry

Twitter will remove some ‘private’ media in bid to combat online abuse (Aaron Gregg)


Microsoft is selling ugly Windows sweaters again, and this time, it’s Minesweeper (The Verge)


  • The Senate Commerce Committee holds a nomination hearing for Gigi Sohn, President Biden’s pick to be a Federal Communications commissioner, and Alan Davidson, Biden’s pick to be assistant secretary for communications and information at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, today at 10:15 a.m.
  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s communications and technology committee holds a hearing on proposals taking aim at Big Tech’s legal immunity today at 10:30 a.m.
  • The House Science Committee holds a hearing on microelectronics on Thursday at 10 a.m.
  • The American Enterprise Institute hosts an event on the role of economic analysis in antitrust on Friday at 10 a.m.
  • Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) testifies at a Senate Finance subcommittee hearing on technology competition, growth and privacy on Dec. 7 at 9:30 a.m.
  • NATO Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges David van Weel discusses artificial intelligence cooperation at an American Enterprise Institute event on Dec. 7 at 9:30 a.m.
  • Heather Boushey, a member of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, participates in a Brookings Institution event on technology and inequality on Dec. 8 at 11 a.m.

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