House Committee Holds CDA Section 230 Hearing, Facebook Whistleblower Testifies

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce introduced four proposals that would modify Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to protect users while maintaining an open and free online forum. The hearing, chaired by Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr (D-N.J.) and Subcommittee on Commerce and Technology Chairman Mike Doyle (D-Penn.), called for bipartisanship in order to pass legislation enhancing social media platforms’ accountability, according to Pallone’s opening remarks.

The legislator explained that the proposed legislation, including the SAFE TECH Act, would limit Section 230 protections in specified circumstances, including when platforms use algorithms to amplify content. The laws would not impose direct liability for content posted on social media platforms nor limits the content those platforms can host, Rep. Pallone said.

The hearing comes after numerous calls for Section 230 reform, including from members of the Federal Communications Commission and the Supreme Court. Pallone noted that since 2018, the committee has held six hearings delving into tech platform accountability and its members have penned numerous letters.

In the nearly eight-hour hearing, the lawmakers heard from two panels, including from members of The Heritage Foundation, a non-profit online education group, legal scholars, and a personal injury attorney. The very first person to give testimony under oath was Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen who previously disclosed facts about the company’s business that raised concerns over its practices and spurred securities suits.

Haugen opened her testimony by stating, “I am here today because I believe that Facebook’s products harm children, stoke division in our communities, threaten our democracy, weaken our national security and much more. Facebook is a company that has paid for its immense profits with our safety and security.”

She explained that she believes the company has fomented conflict and generated self-harm and self-hate, particularly for vulnerable subsections of society like teenagers, in order to pad its own profits. “And no one is held accountable,” Haugen said.

The whistleblower testified that Facebook wants legislators to suffer “analysis paralysis, to get stuck in false choices and to not act.” To address the problems created by the company and hid from the public, Haugen encouraged Congress to investigate and develop new rules to govern it and other platforms.

Next week, the lawmakers are scheduled to hold a Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee hearing to discuss how consumer protection-focused proposals can enhance social media platforms’ accountability to the public. Official footage of the hearing is available here.