So­cial me­dia CEOs vow to de­fend elec­tion

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - BUSINESS - By Marcy Gor­don Marcy Gor­don is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

WASH­ING­TON — Un­der fire from Pres­i­dent Trump and his al­lies, the CEOs of Twit­ter, Face­book and Google re­buffed ac­cu­sa­tions of an­ti­con­ser­va­tive bias at a Se­nate hear­ing Wed­nes­day and promised to ag­gres­sively de­fend their sites from be­ing used to sow chaos in next week’s elec­tion.

Law­mak­ers of both par­ties, eye­ing the com­pa­nies’ tremen­dous power to dis­sem­i­nate speech and ideas, are look­ing to chal­lenge their lon­gen­joyed bedrock le­gal pro­tec­tions for online speech — the stated topic for the hear­ing but one that was quickly over­taken by ques­tions re­lated to the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

With wor­ries over elec­tion se­cu­rity grow­ing, sen­a­tors on the Com­merce Com­mit­tee ex­tracted prom­ises from Twit­ter’s Jack Dorsey, Face­book’s Mark Zucker­berg and Google’s Sun­dar Pichai that their com­pa­nies will be on guard against med­dling by for­eign ac­tors or the in­cite­ment of vi­o­lence around the elec­tion re­sults.

Tes­ti­fy­ing re­motely, the ex­ec­u­tives said they are tak­ing sev­eral steps, in­clud­ing part­ner­ships with news or­ga­ni­za­tions, to dis­trib­ute ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion about vot­ing. Dorsey said Twit­ter is work­ing closely with state elec­tion of­fi­cials.

“We want to give peo­ple us­ing the ser­vice as much in­for­ma­tion as pos­si­ble,” he said.

Repub­li­cans, led by

Trump, have ac­cused the so­cial me­dia com­pa­nies, with­out ev­i­dence, of de­lib­er­ately sup­press­ing con­ser­va­tive, re­li­gious and an­tiabor­tion views, and they say that be­hav­ior has reached new heights in the con­test be­tween the pres­i­dent and Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Joe Bi­den.

Sen. Roger Wicker, RMiss., the com­mit­tee’s chair­man, said at the start of the hear­ing that the laws gov­ern­ing online speech must be up­dated be­cause “the open­ness and free­dom of the in­ter­net are un­der at­tack.”

Wicker cited the move this month by Face­book and Twit­ter to limit dis­sem­i­na­tion of an un­ver­i­fied po­lit­i­cal story from the con­ser­va­tive­lean­ing New York Post about Bi­den. The story, which was not con­firmed by other pub­li­ca­tions, cited un­ver­i­fied emails from Bi­den’s son Hunter that were re­port­edly dis­closed by Trump al­lies.

“Twit­ter’s con­duct has by far been the most egre­gious,” Sen. Ted Cruz, RTexas, told Dorsey. Cruz cited Twit­ter’s lim­i­ta­tions on the news­pa­per story as part of “a pat­tern of cen­sor­ship and si­lenc­ing Amer­i­cans with whom Twit­ter dis­agrees.”

“Who the hell elected you? And put you in charge of what the me­dia are al­lowed to re­port?” Cruz asked.

Dorsey told Cruz that he does not be­lieve that Twit­ter can in­flu­ence elec­tions be­cause it’s only one source of in­for­ma­tion. He tried to steer sen­a­tors away from con­ven­tional no­tions of po­lit­i­cal bias, not­ing that “much of the con­tent peo­ple see today is de­ter­mined by al­go­rithms.” He en­dorsed a pro­posal from com­puter sci­en­tist Stephen Wol­fram that would al­low third par­ties to guide the way ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence sys­tems choose what post­ings peo­ple see.

GOP sen­a­tors raised with the ex­ec­u­tives an ar­ray of al­le­ga­tions of other bias on the plat­forms re­gard­ing Iran, China and Holo­caust de­nial.

There’s no ev­i­dence that the so­cial me­dia giants are bi­ased against con­ser­va­tive news, posts or other ma­te­rial, or that they fa­vor one side of po­lit­i­cal de­bate over an­other, re­searchers have found. But Repub­li­cans aren’t alone in rais­ing con­cerns about the com­pa­nies’ poli­cies.

Democrats fo­cused their crit­i­cism mainly on hate speech, mis­in­for­ma­tion and other con­tent that can in­cite vi­o­lence, keep peo­ple from vot­ing or spread false­hoods about the coro­n­avirus. They crit­i­cized the tech CEOs for fail­ing to po­lice con­tent, blam­ing the sites for play­ing a role in hate crimes and the rise of white na­tion­al­ism in the U. S.

Amid the de­bate, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has asked Congress to strip some of the pro­tec­tions that have gen­er­ally shielded the tech com­pa­nies from le­gal re­spon­si­bil­ity for what peo­ple post on their plat­forms. The pro­pos­als would make changes to a pro­vi­sion of a 1996 law that has been the foun­da­tion for un­fet­tered speech on the in­ter­net. Crit­ics in both par­ties say that im­mu­nity un­der Sec­tion 230 of the law en­ables the so­cial me­dia com­pa­nies to ab­di­cate their re­spon­si­bil­ity to im­par­tially mod­er­ate con­tent.

Trump chimed in Wed­nes­day with a tweet ex­hort­ing, “Re­peal Sec­tion 230!”

The CEOs ar­gued that the li­a­bil­ity shield has helped make the in­ter­net what it is today, though

Zucker­berg said he be­lieves that Congress “should up­date the law to make sure it’s work­ing as in­tended.” Dorsey and Pichai urged cau­tion in mak­ing any changes.

But the ex­ec­u­tives also re­jected ac­cu­sa­tions of bias.

“We ap­proach our work with­out po­lit­i­cal bias, full stop, “Pichai said. “To do other­wise would be con­trary to both our busi­ness in­ter­ests and our mis­sion.”

The com­pa­nies have wres­tled with how strongly to in­ter­vene with speech. They have of­ten gone out of their way not to ap­pear bi­ased against con­ser­va­tive views — a pos­ture that some say ef­fec­tively tilts them to­ward those view­points. The ef­fort has been es­pe­cially strained for Face­book, which was caught off guard in 2016, when it was used as a con­duit by Rus­sian agents to spread mis­in­for­ma­tion ben­e­fit­ing Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

Wed­nes­day’s ses­sion lacked the in­per­son drama of star wit­ness pro­ceed­ings be­fore the coro­n­avirus outbreak. The hear­ing room was nearly empty ex­cept for Wicker and a few col­leagues, as most sen­a­tors took part re­motely, but their ques­tion­ing was sharp as tem­pers flared among mem­bers.

Sen. Brian Schatz, DHawaii, went af­ter Repub­li­cans, say­ing the hear­ing was a sham. With their ques­tions, Schatz said, the Repub­li­cans “are try­ing to bully the heads of pri­vate com­pa­nies into mak­ing a hit job” on po­lit­i­cal lead­ers.

All three com­pa­nies have scram­bled to stem the tide of ma­te­rial that in­cites vi­o­lence and spreads lies and base­less con­spir­acy the­o­ries. In their ef­forts to po­lice mis­in­for­ma­tion about the elec­tion, Twit­ter and Face­book have im­posed a mis­in­for­ma­tion la­bel on some con­tent from the pres­i­dent, who has about 80 mil­lion fol­low­ers.

Trump has re­fused to pub­licly com­mit to ac­cept­ing the re­sults if he loses the pres­i­den­tial con­test. He also has raised the base­less prospect of mass fraud in the vote­by­mail process. None of the five states that mail bal­lots to all vot­ers has seen sig­nif­i­cant cases of fraud.

Face­book is no longer ac­cept­ing new po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ing. Pre­vi­ously booked po­lit­i­cal ads will be able to run un­til the polls close Tues­day, when all po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ing will tem­po­rar­ily be banned. Google, which owns YouTube, also is halt­ing po­lit­i­cal ads af­ter the polls close. Twit­ter banned all po­lit­i­cal ads last year.

Michael Reynolds / As­so­ci­ated Press

Twit­ter CEO Jack Dorsey sparked a lot of re­ac­tion on so­cial me­dia with his ap­pear­ance. A Se­nate com­mit­tee blasted the prac­tices of Dorsey and other so­cial me­dia CEOs, who tes­ti­fied re­motely.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.