Congress Questions Tech CEOs Over Role In Capitol Riot

The CEOs of Twitter, Facebook, and Google were all grilled by Congress in a six-hour hearing regarding the platform’s role in promoting extremism and misinformation.

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Sundar Pichai of Google, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, and Jack Dorsey of Twitter all testified before two committees of the House of Representatives on “social media’s role in promoting extremism and the rampant spreading of misinformation” regarding the pandemic, Covid-19 vaccine, and election process. 

A slew of protesters were outside the Capitol building during the proceedings, wielding cardboard cutouts of the tech CEOs faces on the Capitol rioters bodies. Emma Ruby-Sacs is the executive director of SumofUS, the human rights organization behind the protests. Ruby-Sacs spoke to the media while her and her fellow protesters condemned the CEOs for their role in spreading misinformation within the past four years. 

“The platforms’ inability to deal with the violence, hate and disinformation they promote on their platforms shows that these companies are failing to regulate themselves. After the past five years of manipulation, data harvesting and surveillance, the time has come to rein in big tech,” Ruby-Sacs proclaimed. Lawmakers began the hearing with video testimonials from individuals who criticized the platforms specifically for their role in the January 6th riot at the Capitol building. Frank Pallone, the chair of the energy and commerce committee within the house, opened the proceedings. 

“You all failed to meaningfully change after your platforms played a role in fomenting insurrection and trampling American civil liberties. Your business model itself has become the problem and the time for self-regulation is over. It’s time we legislate to hold you accountable.”

Pallone added: “You’re not passive bystanders – you are not non-profits or religious organizations that are trying to do a good job for humanity – you’re making money. The point we’re trying to make today is that when you spread misinformation, when extremists are actively promoted and amplified, you do it because you make more money.”

Jen Schakowski is a representative from Illinois who further emphasized Pallone’s point but adding “the witnesses today have demonstrated time and time again that self-regulation has not worked. They must be held accountable for allowing disinformation and misinformation to spread.” The committee also emphasized how hate speech disproportionately impacts minority communities such as Black Americans, Asian Americans, Spanish-speakers, and the LGBT+ community. 

Republican lawmakers argued that this was an example of “cancel culture” and that there was a bias against conservatives on these platforms; despite the fact that conservative accounts are the ones that were spreading messages of extremism and hate. Additionally, Democrat lawmakers argued that they weren’t targeting conservatives as a whole, they were targeting the extremists who believe that things like the Capitol riot were justified. 

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“The issues we are discussing here are not abstract. They have real world consequences and implications that are too often measured in human lives. One study showed a substantial rise in hate speech the week after Donald Trump first used the term ‘China flu’ in a tweet.”

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Doris Matsui of California is a Democratic representative who specifically raised the issue of anti-Asian hate speech and directly confronted Zuckerberg and Dorsey about what they were doing to address it. She also grilled the two about why it took so long for them to remove obscenely racist hashtags that directly blamed Asian Americans for the pandemic. Dorsey defended the hashtags by claiming “a lot of them contain counter speech, or posts refuting the racism that the hashtags initiated.” Zuckerberg took a similar approach to his defense by claiming that the hate speech policies at Facebook are “nuanced” so they have an obligation to protect free speech in any context. 

Congressman Tony Cárdenas of California then questioned Zuckerberg about how the company addresses the spreading of misinformation targeted at the Latinx community, citing studies that proved Facebook is more likely to let misinformation in Spanish remain up on the platform when compared to the same misinformation being posted in English. 

During the entire marathon questioning Dorsey is the only executive who somewhat took responsibility for his platform’s role in the Capitol riot. The other two CEOs refused to answer questions regarding their platform’s role. Fadi Quaran, the campaign director at Avaaz and a member of Real Facebook Oversight Board, an activism group, condemned all of the CEOs for their lack of transparency. 

“Mr Zuckerberg and the other tech CEOs couldn’t even muster a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the simple question of whether they’re responsible for how their platforms amplified disinformation that fueled the insurrection. They won’t take responsibility. There’s little hope that they’ll do what it takes to protect Americans from the toxic lies and conspiracies that pollute their platforms.”