Big Tech Becomes Punching Bag at House Hearing on Policing Extremist Content

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Big Tech Becomes Punching Bag at House Hearing on Policing Extremist Content

Facebook, Twitter and Google were pressed on their efforts to police extremist content and misinformation at a House hearing Wednesday. While the tech giants defended their efforts, House lawmakers walked away unsatisfied with their efforts, per The Hill.

Representatives from the three companies told lawmakers they are investing more in technology and professionals to handle extremist content and misinformation.

But the House Homeland Security Committee still don’t feel like their efforts are enough as fake news and extremist content continue to rip through social media platforms.

Representative Max Rose (D-N.Y.), the chair of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee, was one of Big Tech’s biggest critics, asserting that the companies are only offering “technocratic” explanations and excuses while “people are being killed.”

Rose especially criticized the Global Internet Forum to Combat Terrorism, a coalition of tech giants aiming to prevent the spread of terrorist content. Forming in 2017, the organization includes Facebook, Twitter and Google. Rose called the group a “joke of an association.” Oof.

Lawmakers also expressed concern over anti-vaccine misinformation and videos altered to make people seem like they’re saying things they never said.

In general, the conversation centered on a lack of transparency from tech giants about measures of the spread of misinformation and extremist content, and about efforts to combat it. Others voiced concerns that the platforms tailor users’ feeds to only include content that already agrees with their political views, a phenomenon that furthers political division and that Facebook especially has been accused of being evasive about.

Some Republicans raised concerns that the tech companies are biased against conservatives, which the tech representatives denied. Tech reps included Monika Bickert, head of global policy management at Facebook, Nick Pickles, global senior strategist for public policy at Twitter, and Derek Slater, global director of information policy at Google.

President Donald Trump’s been singing a similar tune, claiming Google and Facebook should be sued over their alleged bias toward conservatives.

Trump’s also not a fan of Twitter, for someone who uses it night and day. He’s told reporters that Twitter is making it hard to get his message out, of course, without citing any non-anecdotal evidence. He’s recently complained about his follower count to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who told the president that his lost followers were mostly just bots.

Republicans have long been accusing social media platforms of suppressing conservative content and violating free speech. But proponents say the platforms are private companies who are allowed to regulate the content on their platforms. Many say this content should be regulated to reduce the spread of insidious misinformation.

Throughout the hearing, the conversation often weaved back to concerns about freedom of speech and discussions about if the companies should censor speech.

One representative, Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) compared the situation to the classic George Orwell dystopian novel 1984 and questioned who was judging what is best and most accurate, as well as how it influenced our First Amendment rights.

In response to questions about free speech and about the spread of anti-vaccine propaganda, Facebook told lawmakers of a different strategy. The company said it is working with well-known medical organizations to push legitimate content about vaccines instead of cutting out the anti-vax content.

The hearing comes on the heels of the deadly mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, three months ago. Livestreams and footage of the gruesome attack went viral on Facebook, then spread like wildfire through top social media platforms. As companies pushed to take down the videos, users uploaded them again even faster.

The viral videos of a white supremacist gunning down worshippers at a mosque pulled attention back to policing extremist content online.

The conversation between the House and Big Tech isn’t over yet. The White House announced Wednesday that it would organize a social media summit next month to continue the discussion. But no word yet on which social media companies will attend.

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