Facebook, Google CEOs suggest ways to reform key internet law

Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg addresses the audience on "the challenges of protecting free speech while combating hate speech online, fighting misinformation, and political data privacy and security," at a forum hosted by Georgetown University's Institute of Politics and Public Service (GU Politics) and the McCourt School of Public Policy in Washington, U.S., October 17, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso/Files

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg laid out steps to reform a key internet law on Wednesday, saying that companies should have immunity from liability only if they follow best practices for removing damaging material from their platforms.

In testimony prepared for a joint hearing before two House Energy and Commerce subcommittees on Thursday, Zuckerberg acknowledged the calls from lawmakers for changes to a law called Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives companies like Facebook immunity from liability over content posted by users.

The hearing titled 'Disinformation Nation: Social media's role in promoting extremism and misinformation' is designed to address concerns Democrats have had about the spread of misinformation during the coronavirus pandemic and the presidential election.

It is also likely to discuss ways to hold tech platforms accountable by reforming the internet law. The chief executives of Google and Twitter will also testify at the hearing.

Google's Sundar Pichai will make suggestions to reform the law but, unlike Zuckerberg, will not advocate for adoption of a set of best practices, according to his testimony. Twitter's Jack Dorsey will lay out steps the platform has taken to tackle misinformation.

Zuckerberg and Pichai will also urge caution as Congress considers reforming the law.

"Platforms should not be held liable if a particular piece of content evades its detection -- that would be impractical for platforms with billions of posts per day," Zuckerberg wrote in his testimony.

Google's Pichai also struck a similar note saying "without Section 230, platforms would either over-filter content or not be able to filter content at all."

Pichai instead proposed solutions such as developing content policies that are clear and accessible, notifying people when their content is removed and giving them ways to appeal content decisions.

There are several pieces of legislation from Democrats to reform Section 230 that are doing the rounds in Congress. Several Republican lawmakers have also been pushing separately to scrap the law entirely.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz, Editing by William Maclean and Keith Weir)

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