Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was forced to defend Twitter from allegations of bias during a second hearing hosted by the House energy and intelligence committee.
The hearing was the second one of two back-to-back hearings, including the Senate and the House. The Senate committee hearing dealt with the much-investigated issues of the malicious 2016 election interference as well as the seemingly unchecked proliferation of fake news on social media, while the House Energy and Commerce Committee was hosted to discuss the misleading reports about Twitter’s alleged anti-conservative bias and its practice of “shadowbanning” Republicans — an accusation that has been incessantly pushed by the GOP in recent months.
The House hearing — unlike the largely bipartisan and civil Senate hearing — devolved into a partisan, blame-game after Dorsey kicked off by stating, “Our early and strong defense of open and free exchange has enabled Twitter to be THE platform for activists, marginalized communities, whistleblowers, journalists, governments and the most influential people around the world.”
Although agreeing with this sentiment, Republicans wasted no time in reeling the 41-year-old executive towards the alleged shadowbanning controversy. The questions centered around whether the micro-blogging site’s efforts to monitor content was unfairly prejudicial against the right-wing and resulted in banning them for voicing their opinions. Lawmakers alternately questioned the CEO about the broken verification process, the motivations and bias of the developers who created Twitter’s algorithms, suggested accounts to follow and search results.
Talking about the issue, Dorsey said the perceived issue resulted from a glitch that prevented some accounts from appearing in auto-complete search results. He specified around 600,000 accounts, which included more than just conservatives, were affected by the issue and Twitter is fixing the problem. Any perceived bias was simply accidental.
Our technology was using a decision making criteria that considers the behavior of people following these accounts. We decided that wasn’t fair, and corrected. We‘ll always improve our technology and algorithms to drive healthier usage, and measure the impartiality of outcomes.— jack (@jack) September 5, 2018
However, the answer wasn’t enough to satisfy the Republicans.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) told Dorsey “We wouldn’t be having this discussion if there wasn’t a general agreement that your company had discriminated against conservatives.”
Democrats, meanwhile, called the entire event rubbish (with Congressman Mike Doyle (D-PA) calling it “a load of crap”) and accused the Republicans of wasting time on false conspiracies, rather than discussing the issues related to cyber-bullying and malicious foreign influence.
“Over the past few weeks, President Trump and many Republicans have peddled conspiracy theories about Twitter and other social media platforms to whip up their base and fundraise,” Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) said. “I fear the Republicans are using this hearing for those purposes instead of addressing the serious issues raised by social media platforms that affect American’s everyday lives.”
The comment referred to Trump complaining about Google being “rigged” against him.
Google search results for “Trump News” shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal? 96% of....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 28, 2018
....results on “Trump News” are from National Left-Wing Media, very dangerous. Google & others are suppressing voices of Conservatives and hiding information and news that is good. They are controlling what we can & cannot see. This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 28, 2018
Rep. Paul Sarbanes (D-MA) suggested the entire hearing was just a ploy to force social media platforms to unfairly promote conservatives over liberals.
"It's a shame, frankly, that this committee has been drawn into such a charade," he said.
Dorsey also replied to Rep. Diane DeGette (D-CO), who questioned Twitter’s response to misogynistic harassment of women.
“We don’t feel it’s fair that the victims of harassment have to do the work to report it,” Dorsey agreed. He said Twitter is trying to reduce trolling on its platform. He also answered questions on the social media site’s verification process, stating it was being rebooted and said Twitter challenges millions of bot accounts to prove they belong to humans.
As the hearing concluded, it was announced that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was convening a meeting of some state attorney generals to discuss whether tech firms were intentionally curbing their freedom of speech.
The Twitter hearing came after a year that has shaken much faith and goodwill the tech industry once held, particularly after the entire Facebook debacle when CEO Mark Zuckerberg was dragged in front of lawmakers earlier this year to answer grueling questions about the site’s privacy issues.
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: REUTERS/Chris Wattie