Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey face Senate grilling over tech platforms – as it happened | Technology
That’s all, folks! Today’s hearing was called to address the way an article from the New York Post was handled on Facebook and Twitter.
That was discussed, but so were other issues including how these platforms handled and will continue to handle election misinformation and whether the law shielding them from legal liability for content posted, called section 230, should be modified or repealed.
For a full summary of today’s proceedings, check out my article here. Otherwise, I will see you next time – senators in today’s proceeding ominously said these executives “will be back here soon”.
And, we end the hearing with a lengthy diatribe from Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. She is angry Facebook takes advertising money from Chinese companies like Huawei and Alibaba.
She complains about “cancel culture” and asks why her own post about voter fraud was slapped with an election misinformation label.
Zuckerberg concedes that it is bad to ban people based on political affiliation but does not say much else. She again calls for the removal of Section 230 “shield”, seemingly not realizing this would lead to more censorship of misinformation and the removal of posts like hers that contain falsehoods.
Senator Cory Booker spent a lot of his questioning reiterating that Donald Trump lost the presidential election, in case his Republican colleagues did not know.
He specifically addresses algorithmic amplification, and the danger of platforms sending users to progressively more extreme pages. He asks how platforms will handle the current transitional period until Trump leaves office and the runoff elections in Georgia. Booker, like other senators, brings up the StoptheSteal group and how long it took to be taken down.
Zuckerberg says many of the features changed or turned off for the November elections will remain that way into 2021, and that Facebook is monitoring hashtags, groups and evolving threats.
Respectfully, Senator Mazie Hirono may be the only senator who has asked useful questions today. The Hawaii Democrat requested Zuckerberg elaborate on the effectiveness of flagging misinformation on the platform.
She cited a Harvard study that found Donald Trump’s tweets as one of the biggest sources of voting misinformation in the US and questioned whether more should be done.
Zuckerberg said the labels “point to a broader conversation so people can see what’s happening with the election results”.
“We don’t want to put ourselves in a position of calling an election,” Zuckerberg said. “That is not our job.”
Dorsey said for Twitter’s part, the platform maintains exceptions to its rules for politicians “under the principle that people should be able to hear what their elected officials are saying”.
He reiterates that there are some hard lines, for example, hate speech or violence, that will be censored no matter who is tweeting them.
Hirono concludes by citing more than five studies that showed there is no political bias against conservatives on these social media platforms.
Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa is asking Dorsey and Zuckerberg how they plan to ensure their employee base is representative of Facebook’s user base, after Zuckerberg said he believes full-time Facebook employees lean left-of-center.
Zuckerberg notes that, of course, you can’t ask someone their political views during a job interview so it would be difficult to systematically ensure a complete equity of Democratic vs. Republican employees. He does note that because Covid has allowed Facebook employees to work from anywhere, it is likely its workforce will be based from a larger variety of locations and maybe have a wider variety of views.
Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat of Connecticut, asks Zuckerberg why the platform did not enforce anti-hate policies like its call to arms policy that would have prevented the violent event in Kenosha, Wisconsin earlier this year.
Zuckerberg again blamed the Kenosha violence on the fact that Facebook’s new militia policies had not been fully rolled out yet. Perhaps worth noting militia organizing on Facebook is not new, and that the policy had not been rolled out quickly enough may not be a compelling excuse to people affected by the violence.
Coons and 14 other Democratic senators sent a letter to Zuckerberg on Monday condemning hate content on the platform, particularly content targeted at Muslims. The letter was also signed by Richard Blumenthal, Dick Durbin, Mark Warner, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren.
A weird tangent in today’s hearings started with Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, who claims a “whistleblower” told him about an internal tool called “Tasks” where employees congregate to decide who they will censor.
This line of questioning continued with multiple senators. However, it appears that Tasks is just a project management platform similar to Trello or Monday. Zuckerberg said he was “surprised” to be asked about an internal tool like this.
Jack Dorsey is asked about bots on the platform and whether they should be banned outright. Dorsey says no and points out there are useful bots, says bots should be labeled.
Twitter has said in a number of reports it has taken action against bots, particularly those meant to spread disinformation. However, many bots are not meant for disinformation and are useful.
Some examples: The bot that automatically tweets the most recent legislation introduced to Congress, the @CongressEdits bot that automatically tweets when changes are made to Wikipedia pages from computers using US Capitol IP addresses, the bot that automatically tweets random lyrics from Taylor Swift’s album Folklore every 30 minutes (maybe just useful to me?)
Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska is up next. His questioning focuses largely on the political leanings of Facebook and Twitter employees and of the CEOs themselves.
Zuckerberg acknowledges there are likely political leanings between the average Facebook user and its employees, who may lean left.
“I do think it’s undisputed that our employee base, at least the full time folks politically would be somewhat or maybe more than just a little somewhat to the left of where our overall community is,” he said.
Still, he notes, Facebook has 35,000 moderators around the US and not just in Silicon Valley. It would be naive to assume all of these people are considered left-of-center or otherwise against Republicans.
Sasse, a Republican, also seems to acknowledge this hearing and its supposed purpose is a bit silly.
“I especially think it’s odd that so many in my party are zealous to do this right now when you would have an incoming administration of the other party that would be writing the rules and regulations about it,” he said.
Now Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois is speaking. He’s got some strong words for his Republican colleagues who called for the hearing today, saying there are probably more important issues that could be addressed at this point in time.
We live in a dangerous world: there are issues of national security, the worst pandemic public health crisis in modern times in America, and we’re being challenged as to whether there is going to be a peaceful transition of power in America’s presidency. At that moment in time, we decided none of those topics were important, and that what was important was to determine whether or not, social media was discriminating against Republicans. – Dick Durbin
Durbin asks specifically about why Facebook did not remove a Facebook event that led to a deadly shooting in Kenosha, despite hundreds of reports. Zuckerberg blames this on an “operational mistake” as Facebook’s anti-militia policy was new and some moderators “had not yet been trained on that.”
Cruz accuses Democrats of not opposing ‘censorship’ of press
Senator Ted Cruz has entered the chat.
He accuses Democrats of not speaking out enough against the “censorship” of free press. He is asking Dorsey about specific cases and specific content and asking him if they would violate Twitter’s policies. He asks how many times Twitter has moderated Republican content, which assumes anyone can determine based on a user’s tweet their political leaning and quantify that for Congress.
Cruz keeps mischaracterizing Section 230, saying it gives Twitter a free pass to censor whatever it wants when in fact it is the opposite.
We are back from a short recess. Seantor Patrick Leahy of Vermont is getting his chance to question. He complains about election misinformation and asks if either Facebook or Twitter has done an in-depth post mortem review of the reach of misinformation during the 2020 elections.
Zuckerberg said Facebook is commissioning independent academics to do research. Dorsey said Twitter is doing the same, including opening its API to researchers.
We are taking a quick recess before more questioning. I will leave this tweet here if you need a summary of this morning’s proceedings in the meantime.
Republican Senator Mike Lee does a lot of disingenuous, nonsensical questioning of Zuckerberg and Dorsey, seems to imply bias against conservatives, and says the only violence he has ever heard of on Facebook was carried out by “antifa”.
Obviously this is not accurate, there have been multiple violent acts organized on Facebook by right wing individuals just this year including the murder of protestors in Kenosha, Wisconsin and the planned kidnapping of Michigan governor, which was orchestrated through a Facebook group.
California Senator Dianne Feinstein launches into her questioning of Zuckerberg and Dorsey. She seems to be not completely familiar with what Facebook and Twitter were doing around misinformation during the elections.
She asks if Facebook did enough to counteract Trump’s electoral misinformation. Zuckerberg briefly mentions context labels added to Trump’s post. Feinstein complains Facebook did not remove a “stop the steal” group fast enough.
Feistein asks Jack why Twitter will not take down Trump’s tweets. Jack tries to explain it is a first amendment issue but Feinstein seems unsatisfied with the responses.