The top executives at three of the biggest internet companies faced tough questioning from a Senate committee about alleged anti-conservative bias.
Twitter (TWTR) - Get Report Chief Executive Jack Dorsey, Facebook's (FB) - Get Report Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai of Alphabet's (GOOGL) - Get Report agreed to appear remotely before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation after being threatened with subpoenas.
The hearing was held less than a week before the presidential election.
Dorsey told the committee that Twitter does not have the power to influence elections.
Republicans led by President Donald Trump have accused the companies of deliberately suppressing conservative, religious and anti-abortion views.
Democrats, however, charge that social media doesn't go far enough to reduce hate speech and misinformation.
Internet companies have been shielded from liability for much of what their users post by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican who chairs the committee, said "this liability shield has been pivotal in protecting online platforms from endless and potentially ruinous lawsuits."
"It has also given these internet platforms the ability to control, stifle and even censor content in whatever manner meets their respective standards," Wicker said. "The time has come for that free pass to end."
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) deplored the hearing as "a sham" and "a hit job."
Zuckerberg warned that “without Section 230, platforms could potentially be held liable for everything people say."
"Removing 230 will remove free speech from the internet,” Dorsey said, suggesting such transparency, fair processes, and empowering algorithmic choice as solutions.
Tech executives also appeared before Congress in July, where Rep. David N. Cicilline, chair of the House Judiciary's Antitrust Subcommittee, said "many of the practices used by these companies have harmful economic effects."
Dorsey and Zuckerberg are scheduled to testify again next month in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. That meeting will focus on decisions by Twitter and Facebook to limit the spread of a New York Post article about Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son, Hunter Biden.
Twitter had blocked a link to the article on the grounds it violated company policies against sharing personal information and content stolen by hackers.
Twitter later allowed the article to be shared following an outcry from conservative leaders. Facebook took steps to reduce the spread of the story and said it was eligible for fact-checking.
Twitter has also come under fire from conservatives for removing some of Trump's posts.
Shares of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Twitter at last check were all off more than 3% on a day when stocks were falling sharply amid the rising number of coronavirus infections.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice filed its long-awaited antitrust case against Google.