Washington, USA (CNN Business) – Congress intends to question Facebook, Google and Twitter executives about disinformation and online extremism, Thursday, in the first appearance of executives before lawmakers since the January 6 Capitol riots and the launch of the Coronavirus vaccine. .
Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee are expected to pressure Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorothy, over their platforms’ efforts to stem baseless election fraud allegations and questioning of vaccines.
The panel’s memo suggested that opaque algorithms that prioritize user engagement and reinforce disinformation could also be subject to scrutiny.
Technology platforms, which have already faced intense pressure to cope with the disinformation and foreign interference that led to the 2020 elections, came under further scrutiny in the following months. And while some companies took new steps to crack down on electoral conspiracy theories, this was not enough to stop hard-line supporters of President Donald Trump from storming the US Congress.
The hearing also marks the first time chief executives have returned to Congress since Trump was banned or suspended from their stand in the wake of congressional riots. In their pre-prepared notes, some executives commented directly on the events of January 6.
“The Capitol attack was a horrific attack on our values and our democracy, and Facebook is committed to helping law enforcement bring the rebels to justice,” Zuckerberg said. But Zuckerberg also added: “We do our best to address misinformation more than any other company.”
The hearings coincide with legislation under consideration in both the House and Senate to rein in the tech industry.
Some bills target corporate economic dominance and alleged anti-competitive practices. Others focus on the platforms approach to content stewardship or data privacy.
The various proposals could present stringent new requirements for technology platforms, or expose them to greater legal liability in ways that could reshape the industry.
For executives, Thursday’s session could also be their last chance to present their arguments to lawmakers before Congress enacts potentially sweeping changes to federal law.
At the heart of the upcoming policy battle is Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934, the signature liability shield that gives websites legal immunity to much of the content their users post. Members of both parties have called for an update of the law, which has been widely interpreted by the courts and credited with developing the open internet.
The chief executives’ written testimony ahead of the high-profile hearing on Thursday identifies areas of potential common ground with lawmakers and hints at the areas in which companies intend to work with Congress – and where the major tech firms are likely to hold back.
To date, chief executives have a great deal of experience testifying to Congress. Zuckerberg and Dorsey recently appeared before the Senate in November regarding a content amendment. Prior to that, Zuckerberg and Pichai testified in the House of Representatives last summer on antitrust issues.
In the days leading up to Thursday’s hearing, these companies argued that they had acted aggressively to stem the disinformation. On Monday, Facebook said it removed 1.3 billion fake accounts last fall and that it now has more than 35,000 people working on modifying content.
Twitter said this month it would start applying warning stickers to misleading information about the coronavirus vaccine. She said repeated violations of COVID-19 policies could lead to a permanent ban. YouTube said this month that it had removed tens of thousands of videos containing misinformation about the Corona vaccine. And last January, after the riots in Congress, he announced that he would restrict channels that spread false allegations questioning the 2020 election result.
But these allegations are unlikely to satisfy the members of the commission, whose memo cited several research papers indicating that disinformation and extremism continue to circulate on the platforms.