CEO hearing sets stage for next Congress, presidency – Politico

With help from Leah Nylen and John Hendel

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— MT scoop: Ahead of Mark Zuckerberg’s Tuesday Senate testimony, Democrats across the chamber are calling on the CEO to “take immediate action” to tackle Muslim-targeted hate and violence on Facebook, setting the stage for policy fights under the next Congress and administration.

— U.S. antitrust update: Google is angling for access to sensitive documents that Amazon, Microsoft and other rivals turned over to the Justice Department in its case against the search giant — but the DOJ isn’t having it.

— FCC jockeying: Days after President Donald Trump called out GOP Sen. Marsha Blackburn, urging her to support his FCC nominee, her chief of staff set the record straight about where she stands on Nathan Simington: in favor.


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FIRST IN MT: AHEAD OF TECH CEO HEARING, DEMOCRATS ESCALATE CONCERNS TO ZUCK — 24 hours before Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testify before the Senate Judiciary, more than a dozen Democrats on the committee and across the chamber are sounding the alarm about anti-Muslim bigotry on Facebook. It’s a topic they plan to bring up on Tuesday, despite the stated focus of the hearing — “censorship, suppression, and the 2020 election.” That suggests that, much like past sessions with Silicon Valley’s most prominent CEOs, the hearing could spiral into a broader airing of grievances about the tech platforms.

But just as much, the gathering could set the stage for what Democrats view as some of the top tech issues they want to tackle under the next Congress and incoming administration, including content moderation around online hate and violence. Biden’s transition team, for one, is already planning to launch a task force to address internet harassment, abuse and extremism.

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— In a letter shared first with Morning Tech and slated to be sent later today, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) leads more than a dozen Senate colleagues urging Facebook (among other asks) to be more transparent about hate content on the platform; results of its human and civil rights audits; and how it enforces policies in places where ethnic and religious minorities face a greater threat of violence.

The letter to Zuck comes weeks after an October report from Muslim Advocates labeled the social network “the World’s Engine for Anti-Muslim Violence,” drawing public condemnation from Muslim members of Congress. A week later, Facebook’s top public policy official in India stepped down.

“As members of Congress who are deeply disturbed by the proliferation of this hate speech on your platform, we urge you to do more,” the senators say in their correspondence to Zuck. “We believe Facebook must frankly and openly detail the scope of the problem and take concerted and sustained actions to address this problem fully.” In addition to Coons, signatories include Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). They request a response to questions outlined in the letter by one month from today.

— For the record: Facebook’s community standards state that hate speech — including attacking people based on protected characteristics like “race, ethnicity, national origin, [and] religious affiliation” — is not allowed on the platform. (Facebook outlines some prohibited language pertaining specifically to the Muslim community.) Posts with the potential to incite violence are also not allowed.

— What else is on tap at Tuesday’s hearing: More GOP complaints over alleged anti-conservative tech bias. Building off October’s Senate Commerce hearing with the CEOs, where the topic figured prominently, the Judiciary session is expected to focus on the platforms’ alleged censorship and suppression of New York Post articles in the lead-up to the election.

— And then, a related deliberation on Thursday: Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham’s bill aimed at scaling back internet companies’ prized Section 230 liability protections, S. 4632(116), is up for consideration on Thursday.

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ALSO THIS WEEK: GOOGLE, DOJ BATTLE OVER RIVALS’ DOCUMENTS Google and the Justice Department are at odds over whether the search giant’s in-house lawyers can see information antitrust prosecutors collected from rivals.

— Who gets a look? In court papers filed late Friday, Google argued that at least two attorneys inside the company need to see the information to help its outside counsel defeat antitrust allegations. DOJ said in its own filing that only Google’s outside attorneys — and not any of the search giant’s employees — should be allowed to see records that rivals have deemed highly confidential. The Justice Department’s restrictions would “hobble Google and make discovery an obstacle course,” lawyers for the company said.

But Google’s competitors said the limitations are necessary. Eight Google rivals — AT&T, Amazon, Comcast, Microsoft, Oracle, T-Mobile, rival search engine DuckDuckGo and smart speaker maker Sonos — said they have turned over “some of their most sensitive internal business materials” to prosecutors for use in the antitrust suit against Google. “The production of these documents to anyone — most certainly [Google] the Defendant in this case — is a cause for serious concern and could cause harm to competition (the very thing this lawsuit is attempting to prevent),” the companies said.

— What’s next: U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta will hear from Google and the Justice Department on the issue at a hearing Wednesday.

TRUMP’S FCC NOMINEE? BLACKBURN VOTES YES — Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) “looks forward to voting for Nathan Simington,” President Trump’s nominee for the FCC, her chief of staff Charles Flint told John on Friday, dispelling any concerns on where she stands. Blackburn is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which still needs to vote to advance Simington’s nomination this year before he can be confirmed on the floor.

— Why her support matters: Trump has become unusually invested in this nominee’s fight, personally tweeting about Simington during last week’s confirmation hearing and singling out Blackburn by name. Talk on Capitol Hill has persisted for weeks about possible Blackburn and other GOP concerns surrounding the nominee, and Flint’s comment settles any debate (Democratic objections, of course, remain). Some conservatives see the nominee as a crucial FCC vote in support of tackling the tech industry’s liability protections as well as a surefire way to delay the Biden administration from cementing an FCC majority next year.

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— Although Senate Commerce is holding a markup of telecom bills Wednesday, Simington’s nomination is not on the agenda.

Transition watch: Biden is considering plucking Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) from Congress to fill the country’s top intelligence post, POLITICO reports.

The Biden team’s tug-of-war over Facebook: “Some on the Biden campaign thought they had two opponents to beat: first Donald Trump and then Facebook,” POLITICO’s Nancy Scola and Alex Thompson report. “But people with close ties to Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg have already become inside players in the Biden transition, suggesting that the president-elect is not slamming the door on the company.

Pulling back the Parler curtain: The Mercers — a Republican mega-donor family with ties to President Trump and an ownership stake in Breitbart News — have provided substantial financial backing for the emerging conservative social media platform Parler, WSJ reports.

Disinfo monitor: “The National-Security Case for Fixing Social Media,” by former NSA general counsel Glenn Gerstell in The New Yorker.

Ch-ch-changes: Restaurant and grocery deliveries, online streaming and other types of digital commerce that saw accelerated adoption during the pandemic are here to stay — even after the health crisis subsides, WSJ reports.

ICYMI: Microsoft said Friday that government operatives from Russia and North Korea have attempted to breach several high-profile companies developing coronavirus vaccines and treatments — and in some cases, they’ve succeeded, POLITICO reports.

Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King ([email protected], @bkingdc), Heidi Vogt ([email protected], @HeidiVogt), Nancy Scola ([email protected], @nancyscola), Steven Overly ([email protected], @stevenoverly), John Hendel ([email protected], @JohnHendel), Cristiano Lima ([email protected], @viaCristiano), Alexandra S. Levine ([email protected], @Ali_Lev), and Leah Nylen ([email protected], @leah_nylen).



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