On Wednesday, the CEOs of Twitter, Google and Facebook testified in a virtual hearing before members of the Commerce Committee of the upper house of the US Congress.
The executives were the target of criticism from several Republican senators for their alleged influence on the political discourse that takes place online and which, they say, could affect the results of the presidential elections scheduled for November 3.
The hearing, attended by Jack Dorsey (Twitter), Sundar Pichai (Google) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), was intended to discuss Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects platforms from lawsuits related to content posted by third parties.
At the beginning of the hearing, Republican Roger Wicker called for a reform of the law to increase the responsibility of technology giants in online speech.
“Section 230 plays a critical role in the growth of these platforms. It provides protection to remove and moderate obscene, lewd and violent content, which has protected them from lawsuits, but has also given them the ability to control and censor information. The time has come for that ‘free pass’ to end, ”said Wricker, who chairs the committee.
Although the norm should be the center of the discussion, much of the more than three hours of audience was spent in a heated debate about whether these platforms censor Republican content because they are not related to the ideologies of the ‘Big Tech’ and their employees may interest you
Twitter, to the wall
The harshest criticism fell on Twitter, which was accused by conservatives of moderating President Donald Trump’s content more vigorously than that of the Chinese Communist Party or Holocaust deniers, for example.
“Your platform allows foreign dictators to publish their propaganda without restrictions, while you systematically limit the president of the United States ,” Wicker told Dorsey.
Added to this was the fact that Twitter recently blocked a link to a New York Post article about Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, which contained “hacked” information, in violation of the platform’s policies. Before the protest of the conservatives, Twitter retracted and allowed to share the trill days later.
“The decision to have blocked direct messages and tweet urls was wrong and we changed it,” said Dorsey. “We act as fast as we can and have taken action with tweets from world leaders around the world. The point of labeling (which the company uses to alert to possible false information) is to give more context. These are recent policies that need to be improved ”, he added.
Senator Ted Cruz, angrily, asked him if Twitter could affect the elections in the coming days, to which Dorsey replied that it did not, and insisted that people have options when it comes to choosing their communication channels, be it Twitter or another platform.
According to the manager, his company has policies on disinformation, public health (especially on content related to COVID-19) and interference in elections . Only when there is a violation of any of these rules are trills reported or blocked.
Along these lines, it was willing to be more transparent with its content moderation practices and to give users more options so that they are the ones who choose the types of algorithm that formulate the recommendations they have access to on Twitter.
Criticism of Facebook
Just as Dorsey was targeted by Republicans, Zuckerberg was the Democrats’ main target.
“ Democrats say we don’t remove enough content and Republicans say we remove too much . The fact that they both criticize us does not mean that we are doing well, but it does mean that there are strong disagreements about where the limits of online discourse should be, ”Zuckerberg snapped in his opening speech.
The Facebook executive said that, like Dorsey, he is open to making his content moderation systems more transparent to outside observers and emphasized the importance of separating “bad actors” (who rely on Section 230 to publish illegal content on purpose) and “good guys” like Facebook who use it to create tools.
“The Internet has changed and this rule should be updated to work as planned,” said the head of Facebook.
In his fifth time appearing before Congress, Zuckerberg referred to Facebook’s Advisory Council, an independent figure created to offer perspectives on the thorniest cases that come up on the social network in terms of content.
When asked by Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar if the political propaganda was verified by people, Zuckerberg assured that the ads go through Artificial Intelligence systems and later by the review of some people. He emphasized that it has more than 35,000 employees focused on content moderation. For this, it has been investing about US $ 3,000 million.
It should be remembered that Facebook was in the eye of the hurricane during the past elections due to the role of the platform in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, a consultancy that had access to information from 50 million Facebook users and used it to identify the personalities of voters Americans and influence their behavior.