WASHINGTON (AP) – The CEOs of tech giants Facebook, Twitter and Google faced questioning in Congress Thursday when lawmakers tried to convince them to recognize the role of their companies in fueling the January insurrection on the U.S. Capitol. and the growing misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine.
At a House Commerce and Energy Committee hearing, lawmakers beat up Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg; Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, owner of YouTube; and Twitter boss Jack Dorsey on its content policies, consumer data use and children’s media use.
Republicans raised long-standing, unproven conservative complaints that platforms are biased against conservative views and censor material based on political or religious views.
There is growing support in Congress for legislation to control big tech companies.
“The time for self-regulation is over. It’s time we legislate to hold him accountable, ”said Rep. Frank Pallone, DN.J., committee chair.
That legislative push, plus the social environment of political polarization, hate speech and violence against minorities, was reflected in the impatience of the panel members when questioning the three executives. Several lawmakers demanded yes or no answers and repeatedly cut executives.
“We always feel a certain sense of responsibility,” Pichai said. Zuckerberg used the word “nuanced” several times to insist that the problems cannot be summed up. “Any system can make mistakes” in moderating harmful material, he said.
Shortly after the hearing began, it became clear that most lawmakers had already decided that big tech companies need to be more rigorously regulated to control their dominance over what people read and watch online.
In a round of interrogation that served as political theater and a public flogging, lawmakers called on CEOs for creating platforms that allowed the spread of harmful misinformation about last year’s U.S. presidential election and the current COVID-19 vaccine – all in an incessant search. higher earnings and stock prices.
Lawmakers also blamed corporate services for poisoning children’s minds and inciting deadly insurrection on Capitol Hill, as well as contributing to the most recent mass killings in Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado.
All three CEOs strongly defended their companies’ efforts to remove increasingly toxic content posted and circulated on services used by billions of people, while noting their efforts to balance freedom of expression.
“I don’t think we should be the arbiters of the truth, and I don’t think government should be,” Dorsey said.
Democrats are holding social media platforms responsible for spreading false information about the November elections and allegations of “Stop the Steal” voter fraud spurred by former President Donald Trump, which led to the deadly attack on Capitol Hill. Rep. Mike Doyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat, told CEOs that the riot “started and fueled their platforms.”
Support is building for Congress to impose new restrictions on legal protections regarding speeches posted on its platforms. Both Republicans and Democrats, including President Joe Biden as a candidate, have called for the removal of some of the protections under so-called Section 230 of a 25-year telecommunications law that protects Internet companies from liability for what published by users.
Chief technology officers defended the legal shield under Section 230, saying it has helped make the Internet the forum for free expression it is today. However, Zuckerberg again urged lawmakers to update that law to make sure it works as expected. He added a specific suggestion: Congress could require Internet platforms to get legal protection only if they show that their systems for identifying illegal content are up to par.
Trump enjoyed special treatment on Facebook and Twitter until January, despite spreading misinformation, pushing false claims of voter fraud and enacting hatred. Facebook banned Trump indefinitely a day after Trump-incited rioters invaded the Capitol. Twitter soon followed suit, permanently disabling Trump’s favorite megaphone.
Facebook has yet to decide whether to permanently banish the former president. The company sent that decision to its quasi-independent Oversight Board, a kind of Facebook enforcement Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on the matter next month.
The researchers say there is no evidence that social media giants are biased against conservative news, posts or other material, or that they favor one side of the political debate over another.
Meanwhile, Democrats focus heavily on hate speech and incitement that can lead to violence in the real world. An external report issued this week found that Facebook has allowed groups, many linked to QAnon, boogaloo and militia movements, to extol violence during the 2020 elections and in the weeks leading up to the deadly riots on Capitol Hill.
With the tone and tenor of Thursday’s hearing set early in the hearing, many Internet and Twitter users seemed more interested in Dorsey’s freshly cut and trimmed bread. His freshly groomed appearance captured immediate attention because it was a stark contrast to his unkempt beard that drew comparisons to Rasputin in remote appearances before Congress last year.
Another point of curiosity: a mysterious clock in Dorsey’s kitchen that displayed sets of figures that seemed to be changing randomly in a way that made it clear that it had nothing to do with the time of day. The Gizmodo Technology Blog finally revealed that the device was a “BlockClock” showing the latest prices for cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ethereum.
Ortutay reported from Oakland, California. AP technology writer Michael Liedtke in San Ramon, California, contributed to this report.