Ted Cruz Gets Section 230 All Wrong, While Zuck Claims He's Not Familiar With It
from the nobody-looks-great dept
There’s plenty to say about Mark Zuckerberg’s first congressional hearing this week (like Senator Thune’s thinly-veiled threat of more SESTA-like laws, or Senator Cantwell’s strange, unfocused tangent about Palantir and WhatsApp) but one exchange stands out as so utterly ridiculous that it bears special note.
Senator Cruz used his time in an attempt to shift the focus onto Republican fears that Facebook is a liberal propaganda machine, and specifically tried to box Zuckerberg into declaring whether Facebook was “a first amendment speaker expressing your views”, or a “neutral public forum” — and then explicitly claimed that being the latter is a prerequisite of CDA Section 230 protections.
This is blatantly untrue, as that language appears nowhere in the law, and Section 230 is (as we’ve reiterated many times during the SESTA debate) designed to encourage moderation. But Zuckerberg’s reply was, well, absurd:
“I’m not that familiar with the specific legal language of the law that you speak to, so I would need to follow up with you on that.”
That’s the CEO of Facebook — a service that not only relies on Section 230 to a staggering degree, but just played a major role in developing and supporting a law that drastically alters it — professing ignorance on the letter of the law, as though it were some obscure statute that only his legal department would be fully familiar with.
Now, to be fair, Cruz was trying to box him in with a loaded and ultimately meaningless question — and when you’re being grilled by a panel of Senators, you’ve got to be pretty choosy about if and when you’re actually going to say “you are incorrect, that’s not true” in response to one of their questions. But… could anyone in that room possibly believe him? Or any of the rest of us? SESTA — which, again, Facebook played a major role in — had already been mentioned several times during the hearing, even alongside expressions of appreciation that Facebook helped refine and ultimately supported the bill. Even if we somehow contorted our brains to believe he is genuinely unfamiliar with the language (again: uh-huh…) that would just paint an equally terrible picture in which Zuck has been only vaguely aware of his company’s policy positions all year.
So, that was weird. Senate hearings like this are, of course, mostly theatrical — but that clunky bit of dialogue certainly eviscerated any remaining suspension of disbelief.