Lawmakers interrogate Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter executives over algorithm control over public debate

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Social media companies continued to defend themselves against accusations that their products spread dangerous misinformation, manipulate Americans into spending unhealthy amounts of time online, and are biased against conservative views during a Power subcommittee hearing. Senate Judiciary on Tuesday. Executives from Facebook Inc. FB, + 0.64%, GOOG from Alphabet Inc., -0.78% from YouTube and Twitter Inc. TWTR, + 0.00% faced tough questions and criticism from senators of both parties, arguing that their companies have invested heavily in recent months and years to reduce content that encourages extremism and features that promote “healthy” and “meaningful” engagement with others online.

“Under the guise of giving consumers what they want, many of our social media platforms use surveillance to identify a person’s hot buttons, then use algorithms to show that person things that person’s hot buttons are pressing.” said Senator John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana. “You can still find kindness in America, but you have to unplug to do so.” Read more: Big tech should fear pressure from the FTC against monopoly power, experts say, Kennedy and a fellow Republican, Josh Hawley of Missouri, used the hearing to promote legislation that would remove Section 230’s immunity from Social media companies that use algorithms that decide what content a user sees based on the content that would increase engagement on their platform. Section 230 is a part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which protects online platforms from being sued for content posted by outside users. Tristan Harris, president of the Center for Humane Technology and a high-profile critic of the business models of social media companies, declined to endorse this strategy, arguing that if social media companies were forced not to participate in any editorial oversight from their platforms, content like Pornography and Extreme Speech would likely become even more prominent. “If companies take their hands off the wheel, they are still manipulating people’s emotions, in fact, the more they take their hand off the wheel, the more blind commitment to values ​​increases,” Harris said. “That literally means that the most scandalous things, most of the child trafficking, the most sexually pornographic things would rise to the top, and that would also be a form of manipulation.” See also: Zuckerberg and Dorsey take a whip with the tongue of Congress, but does DC have more punishment in store? Sen. Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, asked representatives from each of the companies to address criticism that their platforms discriminated against conservative views under the guise of regulating “misinformation.” “We welcome diverse perspectives,” said Lauren Culbertson, America’s chief of public policy on Twitter and a former press secretary for former Republican Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia. “Twitter wouldn’t be Twitter if everyone had the same views.” Culbertson and representatives from YouTube and Facebook discussed efforts to improve “due process,” whereby users have the ability to complain that their content was unfairly removed. Alexandra Veitch, YouTube’s director of government affairs and public policy, said that during the last quarter of 2020, “we had 223,000 appeals and 83,000 reinstatements, which shows that we don’t always get this right, but we certainly want to apply our policies anyway.” Democrats focused more on concerns about the vast market power of some social media platforms. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, for example, asked Harris to describe how market power exacerbated the control these platforms have over the market. public speaking. “Once you have a dominant platform, it’s very difficult that there is an alternative,” he said. “Market concentration means that even if there are alternatives that try to solve any of the problems we are talking about differently, existing platforms will buy it. And if you’re a venture capitalist, the only way to finance a business existing is knowing that there is a way out “. Klobuchar introduced legislation in February that would vastly increase the budgets of the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department’s antitrust division, while expanding their powers to block mergers or force existing monopolies to relax. Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, a bipartisan push to reform America’s antitrust regime has been gathering steam, and Republicans are particularly keen to focus on issues that would affect big tech companies. Both Facebook and Google already face lawsuits filed by federal and state law enforcement officials accusing them of engaging in illegal and anti-competitive practices. In the Facebook case, the FTC and state attorneys general are asking the courts to force the company to ditch the popular Instagram and WhatsApp apps. The Biden administration appears eager to follow up these lawsuits with tougher actions against tech giants, after the president nominated for a position at FTC Columbia Law School professor Lina Khan, who rose to fame in 2017 when he wrote a Yale Law Journal article called “The Amazon Antitrust Paradox” about how existing antitrust law is ill-equipped to control the power of big technology.