In a hearing before the Senate Trade Committee on Friday The CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google’s parent company Alphabet were faced with a veritable firing squad that has turned into non-partisan hatred due to party-political interests.. But while Republicans and Democrats have different complaints with the platforms, they’re all clearly in pursuit of blood.
In theory, today’s hearing focused on Section 230, a component of the Communications Decency Act that has historically served to protect online content hosts from publishers’ liabilities. The actual interview, however, was primarily a political immersion.
Many members commented on how quickly the hearing was set up, clearly due to the fact that the national elections are being held on Tuesday. The three CEOs, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and Sundar Pichai have all shown up from afar, but it was after a subpoena threat. Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal accused the Republicans on the committee of trying to influence the election at the last minute:
“I am dismayed that my Republican colleagues are holding this hearing days before the elections when they are trying to intimidate the platforms here into trying to overturn them in President Trump’s favor. The timing seems inexplicable except to actually skew the elections. “
Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) went on: “We have to call this audience what it is: it’s a delusion.”
In the meantime, Republicans like Ted Cruz, who lost to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential primary, cited the removal of Twitter from the New York Post story of alleged corruption of the son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden as evidence that they are censoring conservative narratives.. Cruz said:
“The three witnesses we have before us today, I believe, collectively represent the greatest threat to freedom of expression in the United States and the greatest threat to free and fair elections.”
Since the 2016 elections Facebook, in particular, has lost favor with Democratic congressmen. Many attribute Donald Trump’s victory to Russian misinformation on the platform, as well as the sale of user data to the Trump campaign. Given the continued proliferation of conspiracy theories and far-right recruitment on the platform, Democrats have put new pressure on Facebook to further moderate the content.
Meanwhile, President Trump and the Department of Justice have attacked Section 230 to prevent these platforms from being responsible for moderating content. Here is a rare area where everyone seemed to agree. These platforms do not publish any of the algorithms that execute their suggestions and have very little information on their new methods of moderating content.
“Moderation practices designed to suppress or amplify content remain a black box for the public,” said Senator John Thune (R-SD). “Because of the exceptional level of secrecy with which platforms protect their content moderation practices, it has been impossible to prove in one way or another that political prejudice really exists.”
Thune is co-sponsoring a bill with Schatz that aims to make social media content practices more responsible while operating within the boundaries of Section 230. There are other bills with more aggressive provisions against partisan removal of content.
However, at least one leader in blockchain-based social media pointed out that proprietary controls on algorithms that perform searches and content suggestions have no responsibility as no one sees them. According to Bill Ottman, CEO of Minds, this could change radically with legislation:
“The algorithms have to be open source. If the algorithms aren’t open source, no one can tell if you have favorites. So that’s the rule that would actually be helpful for everyone, because it’s not so much about whether search is part of the many-headed monster that Google is. Rather, we can examine the search. “
Cointelegraph previously speculated on whether continued attacks on big tech could ultimately drive the market towards decentralization. Ottman suggested that open source algorithms would enable continuous public accountability, much like how cryptocurrencies work.
Behind all these complaints is an awareness of the capabilities of these platforms. They are more critical of public discourse than anyone could have predicted in the mid-1990s when Section 230 came out. Facebook, Twitter, and Google are the main sources of information for many American voters, a state that some claim has fueled its own size.. Zuckerberg, Pichai and Dorsey appeared before the House Justice Committee in July for antitrust violations.