Congress to question Facebook, Twitter CEOs on election coverage

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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey (YouTube Screenshot / Fox Business).

Wary of social media companies’ power to filter speech and ideas, Trump and the Republicans accuse them of anti-conservative bias.

The CEOs of Facebook and Twitter are to appear before Congress to defend their handling of disinformation in the 2020 presidential election. This comes even as lawmakers questioning them are deeply divided over the election’s integrity and results.

Sen. Lindsey Graham is a close Trump ally who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee where the CEOs will testify Tuesday. Graham has publicly urged, “Do not concede, Mr. President. Fight hard.”

Both Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey promised lawmakers last month to aggressively guard their platforms. They promised protection against manipulation by foreign governments, and against incitement to violence around the election results.

However, Twitter and Facebook have not been evenhanded. Both labeled content from Trump as misinformation, most notably his posts claiming mail fraud. Twitter flagged Trump’s “I won the Election!” tweet with this note: “Official sources called this election differently.”

Two days after the election, Facebook banned a large pro-Trump group called “Stop the Steal” that rallied against the vote count.

As the vote counting progressed, other “Stop the Steal” groups appeared on Facebook, with one nearing 12,000 members last week. But as of Monday they appeared to have all been banned. And a search for the term turned up no results for such groups.

By contrast, according to the Trump campaign, the media giants applied no such “censorship” to Biden supporters.

Aware of the companies’ power to filter speech and ideas, Republicans accuse the social media companies of anti-conservative bias. Interestingly, Democrats also criticize them, though for different reasons.

Thus, both parties want to strip away some of the protections that have shielded tech companies from legal responsibility for posts on their platforms.

But it’s the companies’ actions around the election that are likely to be a dominant focus at Tuesday’s hearing.

The GOP majority on the Judiciary panel threatened Zuckerberg and Dorsey with subpoenas last month if they didn’t agree to voluntarily testify for Tuesday’s hearing. At a Senate hearing last month, Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee lambasted the two CEOs and Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO. Republicans say there was a pattern of silencing conservative viewpoints but free rein to political actors from countries like China and Iran.

Facebook insists that it has learned its lesson from the 2016 election. It claims it’s no longer a conduit for misinformation, voter suppression and election disruption. This fall Facebook said it removed a small network of accounts and pages linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency. That organization is the “troll factory” that has used social media accounts to sow political discord in the U.S. since the 2016 election. Twitter suspended five related accounts.

But critical outsiders, and even some Facebook employees, say the company’s safeguards remain insufficient, despite it having spent billions.

“Facebook only acts if they feel there’s a threat to their reputation or their bottom line,” says Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate.

(World Israel News).

 

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