Over five questioning hours later, we’ve learned very little about the state of misinformation from today’s marathon hearing with Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, and Sundar Pichai. Democrats have pushed CEOs to answer for the failure of their platforms on vaccine misinformation and extremism. Republicans wanted to talk about child safety. Everyone wanted simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers, although few were given. What is clear is that both sides are more than ready to impose new rules on Facebook, Twitter and Google.
The hearing was supposed to focus on the management by the platforms of disinformation and extremism. The issue took on new importance during the coronavirus pandemic and following the January 6 riot on the U.S. Capitol. “This attack and the movement behind it started and fed off your platforms,” Rep. Mike Doyle said in his opening remarks. “Your platforms suggest groups people can join, videos they should see, and posts they’d like – moving this movement forward with terrifying speed and efficiency.”
Doyle and other Democratic lawmakers have pushed leaders to admit their platforms bear some responsibility for the events of January 6. Only Dorsey would recognize it. Zuckerberg and Pichai both avoided answering the question directly, although the Facebook CEO later admitted that his platform had hosted “problematic” content from some rioters.
As with other recent hearings, the format made it nearly impossible to extract meaningful responses. Many lawmakers used the five minutes allotted to them to demand “yes or no” answers, which leaders were reluctant to give. In a particular , Representative Anna Eshoo of California was asking Zuckerberg about Facebook’s algorithms when she interrupted him to point out that “we are not filibustering in the House.”
These companies are not doing enough to protect their users and our democracy. They must be held accountable. pic.twitter.com/YyNDoBDkS0
– Representative Anna G. Eshoo (@RepAnnaEshoo) March 25, 2021
“I think it’s irritating to all of us and that nobody seems to know the word yes or the word no, which one is it,” she said. “Congressman, these are nuanced questions,” Zuckerberg said before being interrupted. “Okay, that’s a no,” she said.
Later, Rep Billy Long took the sentiment a step further and asked each CEO individually “do you know the difference between ‘yes’ and ‘no’.”
Dorsey, who in his opening statement said he “would prefer that we focus on principles and approaches to address these issues,” appeared impatient. During the hearing, he liked a number of tweets, including one asking why so many lawmakers seem unwilling to learn how to pronounce “Pichai”. He also retweeted one wondering why no one was asking questions on Twitter. . Following Long’s questioning, he released a Twitter poll that simply said “?”. (Dorsey was then sarcastically praised for her “multitasking” abilities by Rep. Kathleen Rice.)
As the hearing dragged on, lawmakers began to repeat themselves. Inevitably, when a new issue or angle came up – like when Rep David McKinley showed Zuckerberg copies of Instagram posts – the leaders had little time to respond in a meaningful way. The result is that CEOs’ opening statements provided more detail on the issues at stake than anything they could say in the next five hours.
This, of course, is nothing new. Over the past two years, Congress has called a number of hearings featuring Big Tech executives, and most of them have gone the same way. But what’s increasingly clear is that both sides of the aisle are eager to impose new regulations on tech platforms.
We still don’t know exactly what form these regulations will take, but they could come on several fronts. President Joe Biden has indicated that he supports of Section 230. And both Congress and the White House have signaled an openness to antitrust action against these companies. (In Congress, Rep. David Cicillin has said he wants to pass several bills that would limit Big Tech’s dominance. And Joe Biden brought in two well-known antitrust specialists for key roles within the and .)
Elsewhere, the Senate may soon bring Dorsey and Zuckerberg back for a new hearing on disinformation, algorithms and privacy, Sen. Chris Coons recently said. Politico. And while there is no reason to believe that another hours-long hearing would shed new light on these issues, it appears Congress intends to force companies to change.
Another idea that has been proposed is the creation of a new federal agency that “would have regulatory power and real powers to regulate these Internet platforms,” said Representative Doyle. following the hearing. “There are members on both sides of the aisle who are ready to sit down and talk about what can be proposed, and the same is happening in the Senate as well.