Coverage: Facebook’s Sandberg, Twitter’s Dorsey grilled by lawmakers
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey appeared before the DC lawmakers on Wednesday to defend each of their companies in what is now the fourth hearing on social media that pertains to Russian interference in U.S. elections, propaganda, and fake accounts.
Matt Binder of Mashable had the news:
This hearing marked the first time both Sandberg and Dorsey testified before Congress, and each of them had their own unique style when it came to answering the committee’s questions. Sandberg looked toward the future of Facebook, focusing on how the company is proactively dealing with the issues of foreign influence and the spread of misinformation on its platform. Sandberg also addressed Facebook’s missteps but stressed, “we are more determined than our opponents and we will keep fighting.”
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who in his opening statement admitted to breaking out of his usually shy persona to speak on these important issues, on the other hand, was very apologetic for Twitter’s role in U.S. election meddling and fake news. “We found ourselves unprepared and ill-equipped for the immensity of the problems we’ve acknowledged. Abuse, harassment, troll armies, propaganda through bots and human coordination, disinformation campaigns and divisive filter bubbles. That’s not a healthy public square,” said Dorsey.
Sandberg and Dorsey both faced questions concerning how their respective companies were combating Russian interference and disinformation campaigns. In discussing how the problem is spreading beyond just Russia, the recent news of Iranian foreign agents running inauthentic accounts on platforms like Facebook came up. Sandberg was also faced with the issue detailed by the U.N. regarding Facebook’s role in the spread of hate speech and fake news which fueled violence and genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
Tony Romm and Craig Timberg of The Washington Post reported that both executives faced accusations of bias:
As they testified, though, some of their most public adversaries sat behind them, including conservative media personalities like Alex Jones, the founder of the conspiracy-minded InfoWars. The presence of Jones, who had been banned from both platforms for violating rules against harassment, seemed all the more striking given a Wednesday afternoon hearing in the House, featuring Dorsey, focused on allegations that tech is biased against right-leaning users.
The tech executives remained focused on their arguments to Senate leaders that they had made great strides cleaning up their sites and services ahead of the 2018 midterms, when the composition of Congress is up for grabs.
“We were too slow to spot this and too slow to act. That’s on us,” Sandberg said. “This interference was completely unacceptable. It violated the values of our company and of the country we love.”
Sandberg added: “We are more determined than our opponents and we will keep fighting.”
Matthew Ingram of Columbia Journalism Review wrote that Google was noticeably absent:
The most controversial aspect of the hearing was the elephant in the room, or rather the elephant not in the room—namely, the empty chair that was supposed to be filled by a senior executive from Google. Both Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Alphabet CEO Larry Page refused to attend, and the Senate committee rejected the offer to have VP Kent Walker attend instead (although he did offer written testimony, which was also published on a Google blog). Given the largely polite nature of the discussion, it’s worth wondering whether Google did itself more harm by not attending than it would have by appearing. Neither Sandberg nor Dorsey said much that was noteworthy, but both at least gave the impression they care about the issues at hand.
There were few mea culpas from the platforms about how they should have acted faster to crack down on misinformation (Sandberg said: “We were too slow to spot this, and too slow to act”), and little discussion of why it took almost a decade for both of these massive and well-funded platforms to spend even a fraction of their resources on figuring out how bad actors such as Russian counter-intelligence agencies or Iranian political factions might use them for their own ends. In a recent interview, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted he hadn’t thought about that kind of thing until it was too late—that he had only focused on the good things that Facebook might bring to the world. But why?