Tech giants grilled over ‘anti-conservative’ bias

 

Facebook and Twitter defended their handling of US election misinformation at a heated congressional hearing on Tuesday (local time) where one key senator assailed the platforms for being the "ultimate editor" of political news.

The hearing, the second in less than a month, came with social media under increasing fire from both the left and the right for their handling of political content during a bitter US presidential campaign.

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testified remotely to the session, called to discuss "censorship and suppression of news articles" and the "handling of the 2020 election" by the platforms.

Senator Lindsey Graham, chairing the Judiciary Committee hearing, warned the CEOs that new regulations are needed to ensure that major platforms are held responsible for decisions on removing, filtering or allowing content to remain.

"It seems like you're the ultimate editor," the Republican senator said at the opening as he took aim at decisions by both platforms to limit the distribution of a New York Post article claiming to expose malfeasance involving the son of President-elect Joe Biden during the campaign.

"When you have companies that have the power of governments (and) have far more power than traditional media outlets, something has to give." Graham said the law known as Section 230 that gives immunity to online services for content posted by others "needs to be changed."

 

 

 

MEGAPHONE FOR FALSEHOODS

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal also called for reform of Section 230 while rebuking the platforms for what he said was inadequate action on political misinformation from US President Donald Trump.

"The president has used this megaphone to spread vicious falsehoods in an apparent attempt to overturn the will of voters," Mr Blumenthal said.

Mr Blumenthal said the big platforms had "power far exceeding the robber barons of the last Gilded Age" and have "profited hugely by strip mining data about our private lives and promoting hate speech and voter suppression."

Republican Senator Mike Lee meanwhile denounced what he called "instances in which your platforms are taking a very distinctively partisan approach and not a neutral one to election related content moderation … just days before the election."

Both Mr Dorsey and Mr Zuckerberg said they were open to reform on Section 230 as they outlined their efforts to curb harmful misinformation during the election campaign.

"We strengthened our enforcement against militias, conspiracy networks, and other groups to help prevent them from using our platform to organise violence or civil unrest in the period after the election," Mr Zuckerberg said.

He said Facebook removed false claims about polling conditions and displayed warnings on more than 150 million pieces of content flagged by independent fact-checkers.

Mr Dorsey meanwhile said filtering at Twitter was not a result of bias, despite claims to the contrary by conservatives.

In filtering content, "all decisions are made without using political viewpoints, party affiliation, or political ideology," Mr Dorsey said in his testimony.

"Our Twitter rules are not based on ideology or a particular set of beliefs. We believe strongly in being impartial, and we strive to enforce our Twitter rules fairly."

Both platforms have begun limiting the reach of many of Mr Trump's tweets, notably those in which the president rejected his election defeat or questioned the integrity of the voting process.

Twitter and Facebook have been facing pressure to remove what many see as harmful misinformation around the elections, while also fighting claims of suppression of certain political views.

TWITTER'S CENSORSHIP OF BIDEN ARTICLE IN SPOTLIGHT

Mr Dorsey and Mr Zuckerberg were called to testify over allegations of anti-conservative bias on Twitter and Facebook, respectively.

Mr Zuckerberg and Mr Dorsey were subpoenaed in October to appear at a hearing with the Senate judiciary committee in order to "review the companies' handling of the 2020 election".

The hearing was called in response to a contentious New York Post article about Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

The article alleged that the Bidens engaged in dodgy business dealings and that Hunter Biden made money off of promising to introduce his father to his business associates.

When the story was published in October, Twitter took the unusual step of curbing its circulation, stopping users from posting links or pictures of the article.

Twitter said the steps were taken due to concerns over "the origins of the materials" included in the article, which were allegedly taken from a computer hard-drive that had been left by Hunter Biden at a computer repair shop in April last year.

Twitter policies prohibit "directly distribut[ing] content obtained through hacking that contains private information".

The company later played down its response, tweeting that the communication around the actions on the story "was not great".

The company also changed its hacked materials policies in response to the uproar. Facebook took a less combative point of view, placing some limitations on the article due to questions about its legitimacy.

It comes as Mr Dorsey said in remarks prepared for a US Senate hearing on Tuesday (local time) that the social network's filtering during the US election campaign was not a sign of bias, despite claims to the contrary by conservatives.

"In the lead up to the 2020 elections, we made significant enhancements to our policies to protect the integrity of the election," Mr Dorsey said in his written remarks.

"We applied labels to add context and limit the risk of harmful election misinformation spreading without important context because the public told us they wanted us to take these steps."

Mr Dorsey has maintained that the filtering is not the result of bias against conservatives, despite claims to the contrary by Mr Trump and his allies.

The platform has begun limiting the reach of many of Mr Trump's tweets, notably those in which the president rejected his electoral loss or questioned the integrity of the voting process.

Twitter and Facebook have been facing pressure to remove what many see as harmful misinformation around the elections, while also fighting claims of suppression of certain political views.

Mr Dorsey said Twitter continues to seek the right balance.

"We want to be very clear that we do not see our job in this space as done," he said. "Our work here continues and our teams are learning and improving how we address these challenges and earn the trust of the people who use Twitter."

Mr Dorsey, along with Facebook CEO Mr Zuckerberg, were scheduled to appear remotely at the hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Committee chair Senator Lindsey Graham called the session to address what he called "censorship and suppression of news articles" and the "handling of the 2020 election" by the platforms.

 

 

 

 

Originally published as Tech giants grilled over 'anti-conservative' bias



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