Warily eyeing how the companies wield their power to filter speech and ideas, Trump and the Republicans accuse the social media companies of anti-conservative bias.
By Associated Press
The CEOs of Facebook and Twitter are being summoned before Congress to defend their handling of disinformation in the 2020 presidential election, even as lawmakers questioning them are deeply divided over the election’s integrity and results.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee where the CEOs will testify Tuesday, has publicly urged, “Do not concede, Mr. President. Fight hard.”
Both Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey promised lawmakers last month that they would aggressively guard their platforms from being manipulated by foreign governments or used to incite violence around the election results.
Twitter and Facebook have both labeled content from Trump as misinformation, most notably his posts linking voting by mail to fraud. On Monday, Twitter flagged Trump’s tweet proclaiming “I won the Election!” with this note: “Official sources called this election differently.”
Two days after the election, Facebook banned a large group called “Stop the Steal” that Trump supporters were using to organize protests against the vote count.
For days after the election as the vote counting went on, other “Stop the Steal” groups appeared on Facebook, with one nearing 12,000 members as of last week. But as of Monday they appeared to have all been banned; a search for the term turned up no results for such groups.
Warily eyeing how the companies wield their power to filter speech and ideas, Trump and the Republicans accuse the social media companies of anti-conservative bias. Democrats also criticize them, though for different reasons.
The result is that both parties are interested in stripping away some of the protections that have shielded tech companies from legal responsibility for what people post on their platforms.
But it’s the actions that companies have taken around the election that are likely to be a dominant focus at Tuesday’s hearing.
The GOP majority on the Judiciary panel threatened Zuckerberg and Dorsey with subpoenas last month if they didn’t agree to voluntarily testify for Tuesday’s hearing. Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee lambasted the two CEOs and Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, at a hearing last month for what they said was a pattern of silencing conservative viewpoints while giving free rein to political actors from countries like China and Iran.
Facebook insists that it has learned its lesson from the 2016 election and is no longer a conduit for misinformation, voter suppression and election disruption. This fall Facebook said it removed a small network of accounts and pages linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency, the “troll factory” that has used social media accounts to sow political discord in the U.S. since the 2016 election. Twitter suspended five related accounts.
But critical outsiders, as well as some of Facebook’s own employees, say the company’s efforts to tighten its safeguards remain insufficient, despite it having spent billions.
“Facebook only acts if they feel there’s a threat to their reputation or their bottom line,” says Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate.