A law that shielded online platforms by law – Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – has long been cited by lawmakers as a potential reform target.
President Trump signed an executive order in May to cut the law. And the legal shield, which largely protects technology companies from liability for what their users post, has been the subject of other hearings in Congress.
However, the debate on section 230 has resulted in minimal concrete discussion. At a hearing last month with the managing directors of the social media companies, there was little debate on content and few proposals for reforming the law.
Not on Tuesday. At the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter's Jack Dorsey, lawmakers approached Section 230 differently from the start. They began with a bipartisan call to change the “golden goose” legal shield, with an emphasis on legislation that is likely to be the focus of the next Congress.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, opened the hearing with the direct aim of redress.
"We need to find a way when Twitter and Facebook decide what is reliable and what is not, what to keep and what to keep, so that the system is transparent," said Graham. "Section 230 needs to be changed because we can't get there from here without changing."
Republicans have referred to the law as a crutch for online platforms to censor conservative content, claims that are unfounded. Democrats have agreed that the law needs to be reformed, but they have taken the opposite position on why. Democrats have said Section 230 allowed disinformation and hatred to flourish on the social media sites.
“Change will come. No question. And I plan to make 230 aggressive reforms, ”said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, in the opening speeches.
Mr Blumenthal was a leading proponent of the first reform of Section 230 in 2018, which made the platforms responsible for knowingly hosting sex trafficking content.
But he was careful to distance himself from Republicans' concerns about censorship.
"But I'm not interested in being a member of the language police, and neither should we be on that committee," said Blumenthal.
Mr Zuckerberg and Mr Dorsey said they were open to some legislative reform. Mr Zuckerberg added that he could see reforms that required more transparency from companies. Neither executive elaborated on it, but Mr Dorsey's Twitter account supported reforms in terms of transparency, the ability to appeal decisions about moderation, and users have a choice of the algorithms that determine what content is going to be submitted displayed to users.