Drama in Congress as tech CEOs face fury over disinformation
WASHINGTON, March 25, 2021 (BSS/AFP) – Tech CEOs defended their platforms’
practices as they girded for a fresh grilling Thursday from US lawmakers
angered over rampant disinformation about the US elections, the Capitol
attack and Covid-19.
The leaders of Facebook, Google and Twitter sought to head off critics
leading into a House of Representatives hearing, the latest in a series
highlighting concerns over moderating online content.
The remote video hearing is the fourth for Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and
Twitter’s Jack Dorsey since last July and the third for Google’s Sundar
Pichai: evidence of how the companies’ vast economic and political power has
landed them squarely in the crosshairs of Democrats and Republicans alike.
“Whether it be falsehoods about the Covid-19 vaccine or debunked claims of
election fraud, these online platforms have allowed misinformation to spread,
intensifying national crises with real-life, grim consequences for public
health and safety,” said the heads of the two congressional subcommittees
holding the hearing, in a statement.
The tech CEOs said they were doing their best to keep out harmful content.
“Every day Twitter grapples with complex considerations on how to address
extremism and misinformation,” Dorsey said in his written testimony released
in advance by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“Our efforts to combat misinformation, however, must be linked to earning
trust. Without trust, we know the public will continue to question our
Pichai said Google is dedicated to giving people “trustworthy content and
opportunities for free expression across our platforms, while limiting the
reach of harmful misinformation.”
Zuckerberg meanwhile said Facebook has ramped up its efforts “to keep hate
and violence off our platform” and offered a proposal to address concerns
about liability of online platforms, suggesting that each platform have
systems in place to weed out illegal content.
Zuckerberg said that “people of all political persuasions want to know
that companies are taking responsibility for combatting unlawful content and
activity on their platforms.”
He maintained that Congress “should consider making platforms’
intermediary liability protection for certain types of unlawful content
conditional on companies’ ability to meet best practices to combat the spread
of this content.”
– Growing ‘techlash’ –
The hearing comes amid a growing backlash against Big Tech firms which
dominate key economic sectors, and which have largely benefitted from the
move to online services during the pandemic.
A statement from the Energy and Commerce Committee said the big platforms
“maximize their reach — and advertising dollars — by using algorithms or
other technologies to promote content… (and) often elevate or amplify
disinformation and extremist content.”
Top law enforcement officials from 12 states meanwhile Wednesday called on
Facebook and Twitter to take stronger measures to stop the spread of Covid-19
vaccine disinformation by vaccine opponents.
“The science is clear — this vaccine saves lives,” said New York state
Attorney General Letitia James.
“Facebook and Twitter must take immediate action to protect New Yorkers
and limit any further loss of life as a result of the spread of inaccurate
The platforms were also expected to face criticism from Republicans for
banning president Donald Trump for his comments seen as inciting the violence
at the US Capitol on January 6 by his supporters.
As the tech firms become a bigger part of people’s lives, they have been
facing a firestorm over disinformation, privacy, liability and antitrust as
the Biden administration assembles its team and regulatory officials. But
prospects for any immediate moves in Washington were unclear.
“I don’t expect more than theater” at the hearing, said analyst Carolina
Milanesi of market research firm Creative Strategies.
“It’s still politics and you are still going to have the whole
Republicans-versus-Democrats and free speech coming into play.”
BSS/AFP/FI/ 0809 hrs