WASHINGTON – Lawmakers baked the leaders of Facebook, Google and Twitter on Thursday over the connection between online disinformation and the January 6 riots at the Capitol, prompting the chief executive officer of Twitter publicly admitted for the first time that his product played a role in the event that killed five people.
When a Democratic lawmaker asked executives to answer “yes” or “no” whether platforms held any responsibility for the misinformation that contributed to the riot, Jack Dorsey Twitter’s saying “yes”. Neither Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg nor Google’s Sundar Pichai responded directly to the question.
The hearing lasted about five hours in front of a House committee marking the first time lawmakers questioned executives directly about the role the social network played in the January riots. Tech owners have also been questioned about how their company helped spread deviations around the Covid-19 vaccine, triggering racism and hurting children’s mental health.
It was also the first time executives had testified since President Biden took office. Fierce questions from lawmakers signal that careful scrutiny of Silicon Valley’s businesses will not be ignored, and possibly even intensified, with White House Democrats. and heads of both houses of Congress.
Executives have become the Capitol Hill administration in recent years. Mr. Zuckerberg has testified seven times since 2018. Mr. Dorsey has appeared five times and Mr. Pichai has testified four times since. But these hearings, involving misinformation, antitrust and data security, did not lead to regulations. Despite the bipartisan hatred of the companies, there has been little agreement on how concrete to keep the internet giants from calculating. Dozens of privacy, speech, and antitrust bills have gone nowhere in the past few years.
“It will be difficult to translate these concerns into law,” said Alexandra Givens, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a technology consulting organization.
The focus of the hearing is on questions about whether companies have a financial incentive to keep users engaged – and click on ads – by providing them with divisive, extreme, and hostile content. hate it or not. Lawmakers on both sides said Congress should reconsider the law that protects the platform from lawsuits over content posted by their users.
“You are not passive outsiders,” said Representative Frank Pallone, New Jersey Democrat, House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman. “You are making money.”
Lawmakers, who have compared the businesses of social media companies to tobacco and alcohol companies, are sometimes frustrated with what they say is the avoidance of chief executive officers. onions.
Representative Mike Doyle, Democrat of Pennsylvania, asked tech executives to answer yes or no: Did their platforms contribute to the spread of misinformation before the riots?
Mr. Zuckerberg and Mr. Pichai dodged the question. Mr. Dorsey is more direct.
“Yes,” he said. “But you also have to take into account the broader ecosystem. It’s not just about the technology platforms we use.
Mr. Doyle pressed other executives.
“How can you deny that Facebook played a leading role in facilitating the hiring, planning and execution of the attack on the Capitol?” he asked Mr. Zuckerberg.
“I think the responsibility here belongs to the people who have committed the illegal actions and rebellion,” Zuckerberg said. He added that those who spread misinformation should also be held accountable.
But your platforms overload that.
Then, while still attending the video conferencing hearing, Mr. Dorsey tweeted a single question mark With a poll there are two options: “Yes” or “No”. When asked by a lawmaker about his tweet, he said “yes” won.
The January riot at the Capitol deepened the question of lawmakers about misinformation. The riots were fueled by false statements from President Donald J. Trump and others that the election was stolen, rampant on social media.
Some of the participants had connections with QAnon and other online conspiracy theories. And prosecutors have said that groups involved in the riot, including Vow Keepers and Pride Boys, coordinated some of their actions on social media.
Lawmakers also criticized the platforms for the way they have facilitated the spread of false information about the coronavirus pandemic and vaccine to Covid-19. Representative Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat representing part of Silicon Valley, told Dorsey that Twitter should “remove all Covid’s misinformation – and not label or reduce its spread. it, but remove it. “
Republicans have criticized companies for amplifying harmful content that is especially harmful to children. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Republican of Washington, said social media was her “biggest fear” as a parent. “I watched where your algorithms lead them. It’s scary. I know I’m not alone, ”said Mrs. Rodgers.
Republicans also focused on decisions by social media platforms to ban Trump and his associates after the January 6 riots. Conservatives forbid the tough notion that companies are left-leaning and tend to silence conservative voices.
“We are all aware of Big Tech’s growing censorship of conservative voices and their commitment to serving the radical progress agenda,” Representative Bob Latta of Ohio, a Republican ranking member on the board’s technology subcommittee, said.
Company leaders protect their businesses, say they have invested heavily in hiring content moderators and in technology such as artificial intelligence, used to identify and counteract information. false.
Zuckerberg argues against the notion that his company has a financial incentive to grab users’ attention by directing them to more extreme content. Facebook doesn’t design “algorithms just to try to tune and optimize and get people to spend last minute on our service,” he said.
He then added during the hearing that false information about the election was spread in messaging apps, where amplification and algorithms did not aid the propagation of misleading content. He also blamed television and other traditional media for spreading election lies.
Companies have shown gaps in their views on regulations. Facebook strongly supported internet regulations during a massive television and press advertisement. During the hearing, Zuckerberg proposed specific regulatory reforms to a key legal shield, known as Section 230 of the Communication Formality Act, that helped Facebook and other internet giants. Silicon Valley thrives.
The legal shield protects companies that host and censor third-party content, and says companies like Google and Twitter are simply intermediaries of their user-generated content. Democrats have argued that with such protections, companies have no incentive to disinfect misinformation. Republicans accuse companies of using shields to over-modulate and remove content that does not represent their political views.
“I believe Section 230 will benefit from thoughtful changes to make it work better for everyone,” Mr. Zuckerberg said in the statement.
He proposed that the protection of liability for companies to conditionally be based on their ability to fight the spread of some kind of illegal content. Platforms must be required to prove that they have systems in place to identify illegal content and remove it, he said. The reforms will be different for smaller social networks, he said, which won’t have the same resources as Facebook to meet the new requirements.
Mr. Pichai and Mr. Dorsey said they support transparency requirements in censorship but disagree with Zuckerberg’s other ideas. Mr Dorsey said it would be difficult to differentiate a large platform from a smaller one.
The lawmakers did not appear to have won.
“There’s a lot of complacency among you,” said Representative Bill Johnson, an Ohio Republican. “There is this ambiguous atmosphere in your answers to many of the conundrums that you are being asked.”
Kate Conger and Daisuke Wakabayashi Contribution reports.