Doyle Statement about Disinformation on Social Media Platforms

June 24, 2020
Press Release

Washington, DC – June 24, 2020 – U.S. Representative Mike Doyle (PA-18) made the following opening statement as he co-chaired a joint hearing held by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology and Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce on the topic of “A Country in Crisis: How Disinformation Online Is Dividing the Nation.”

Good morning and welcome to today's joint hearing on disinformation and the crisis it is creating in our country and for our democracy.

The matter before the Committee today is one of pressing importance: the flood of disinformation online - principally distributed by social media companies - and the dangerous and divisive impact it is having on our nation as we endure the COVID-19 epidemic.

More than 120,000 Americans have already lost their lives to this virus, and nearly 2.4 million Americans have been infected. Tens of millions of people are out of work as we attempt to stop the spread of this virus and prevent an even greater disaster.

In the midst of this historic crisis, we are also facing a historic opportunity. Tens of millions of Americans are calling for racial justice and systemic changes to end racism and police brutality in the wake of the horrific murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement. The Black Lives Matter movement has resulted in protests around the globe and online, as people are taking to the streets and to social media to express their support for change. 

But as we march for progress and grapple with this deadly disease, the divisions in our country are growing. While our nation has long been divided, today we see that much of this division is driven by misinformation distributed and amplified by social media companies – the largest among them being Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. 

These platforms have become central to the daily lives of many around the globe – and to the way that people get their news, interact with each other, and engage in political discourse.

Our nation and the world are facing an unprecedented tsunami of disinformation that threatens to devastate our country and the world. It has been driven by hostile foreign powers seeking to weaken our democracy and divide our people, by those in our country who seek to divide us for their own political gain, and by the social media companies themselves – who have put profits before people as their platforms have become awash in disinformation and their business models have come to depend on the engaging and enraging nature of these false truths.

When Congress enacted Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in 1996, this provision provided online companies with a sword and a shield to address concerns about content moderation and a website’s liability for hosting third party content. And while a number of websites have used 230 for years to remove sexually explicit and overly violent content, they have failed to act to curtail the spread of disinformation. Instead they have built systems to spread it at scale and to monetize the way it confirms our implicit biases.

Everyone likes to hear and to read things that confirm what they think is true, and these companies have made trillions of dollars by feeding people what they want to hear. As a result, these platforms have peddled lies about COVID 19, Black Lives Matter, voting by mail, and much, much more.

When companies have done the right thing and stepped up to take down disinformation, they have been attacked by those who have benefited from it. Recently, Twitter labelled a number of tweets by President Trump as inaccurate, abusive, and glorifying violence. In response, President Trump issued an Executive Order threatening all social media companies. The Department of Justice has issued similarly thuggish proposals as well. The intent of these actions is clear: to bully social media companies into inaction. 

Social media companies need to step up to protect our civil rights, our human rights, and human lives – NOT sit on the sidelines as our nation drowns in a sea of disinformation.

Make no mistake, the future of our democracy is at stake and the status quo is unacceptable. 

While Section 230 has long provided online companies the flexibility and liability protections they need to innovate and to connect people from around the world, it has become clear that reform is necessary if we want to stem the tide of disinformation rolling over our country.

This joint hearing focused on the spread of disinformation and misinformation on social media platforms as highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the murder of George Floyd and recent protests for racial equality, and recent elections encouraging mail-in ballots for voter safety.

The hearing included witnesses Brandi Collins-Dexter, Senior Campaign Director for Color of Change; Hany Farid, Professor at the University of California, Berkeley; Spencer Overton, President of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and Professor of Law at George Washington University; and Neil Fried, former Chief Counsel for Communications and Technology on the Energy and Commerce Committee and Principal of DigitalFrontiers Advocacy.

For the Committee on Energy and Commerce memorandum about this hearing, please click here.

For the video of this hearing, please click here.