That wraps up the last statements of the Congressional hearing called Disinformation nation: social media’s role in promoting extremism and misinformation. In some ways it felt a lot of ground was covered during the six-hour questioning marathon of the three most powerful men in tech, but in others it is not clear what concrete action will be seen from the latest in a long line of panels on misinformation and hate speech.
As has happened in past hearings on the matter, Republicans repeatedly claimed conservative viewpoints are maligned on social platforms while Democrats argued that something must be done about misinformation and hate speech. Special attention was paid to how hate speech impacts minority communities including the LGBTQ+ community, the Black community, Asian Americans, and Spanish-speakers.
Zuckerberg frequently spoke in favor of reforming Section 230, a law that exempts platforms from legal responsibility for what is posted by users. Meanwhile, Dorsey put forward his plan of allowing for an open protocol shared by tech platforms to make for more transparency surrounding how content is moderated. He also expressed that Twitter would like to open its moderation operations up to outside researchers for review.
In the six hours of interrogation, Dorsey was the only one of the three executives who accepted any form of responsibility for the insurrection on 6 January.
No follow-up hearings on this particular subject were mentioned today, but the House financial services committee previously this year said in an antitrust hearing that there would be more to come – so we can expect to see these executives back on the Hill soon.
Congress member Kim Schrier, who is a medical doctor, talked about the concerns surrounding vaccine hesitancy caused by medical misinformation on social media.
She said a lot of doctors spend their days vaccinating on the front lines of the pandemic, only to come home to combat misinformation on social media in their free time.
Schrier also read out harassment and hate speech she received as a result of promoting the vaccine on social media, which she said was “particularly unsettling after the events of January 6”.
Some of the comments said they were going to make her “disappear” and that she should “expect riots”. One person wrote “we have weapons and will fight off forced vaccinations”.
In light of the violent misinformation surrounding medicine, Schrier suggested more people involved in regulating health misinformation should have a medical background.
Zuckerberg said the people who set policies are experts or get consulting from experts and that Facebook breaks those policies down into “simple protocols” that moderators and AI can follow “without requiring all those people to be medical experts”.
Democratic representative Marc Veasey of Texas took on misinformation, in particular that which targets Black Americans, in his questioning.
He said he would like to establish an independent organization of researchers and computer scientists “who could help identify and warn about misinformation trends before they become viral” and asked each executive if he would support it.
Zuckerberg and Pichai said they would in some form. Dorsey said he may but that he does not think the idea being put forward would be very effective.
“The more important thing is to get much more open standards and protocols that everyone can have access to and review,” Dorsey said.
To underscore the urgency if misinformation reform, Veasey cited the example of his local poison control having to make an announcement that ingesting bleach would not cure Covid-19 after bad actors – including Donald Trump – spread the idea that it could.
“We need to act quickly, he said. “We’re running out of time and that we need these companies to take affirmative action on addressing some of these issues.”
Jack Dorsey appears to be tweeting (and perhaps subtweeting) during the the hearings on Thursday. At around 11:26 am PST he tweeted a question mark with a poll where users could vote “yes” or “no”.
That was the point during the hearing during which he was being questioned about whether Twitter or other social media firms should be the final say in what content is allowed online. All of the executives said no, and Dorsey said he would defer to Congress on that.
He also tweeted “agreed” with a tweet that said more Congress members should ask Dorsey about his “protocols” idea, which he mentioned in his opening statements.
This would be an open-sourced tool that allows all social media platforms to cross-reference and share information on how they are moderating different content. It has barely been addressed since he mentioned it at the beginning of the hearing *checks clock* four hours ago.
Kathleen Rice in her questioning asked Dorsey about his tweets.
“What’s winning, yes or no?” she asked.
“Yes,” Dorsey smirked.
Republican Jeff Duncan of South Carolina just spewed a lot of racist misinformation at the executives, taking care to assert falsely that there was no racial motivation in the shootings of multiple Asian women in Atlanta last week at primarily Asian-American-owned businesses. He said calling it a hate crime is “misinformation”.
His line of questioning underscored a common issue with Republican questioning in these hearings, which often focuses on individual cases of content moderation decisions – like in this case the example of a tweet sent to Republican figurehead Candace Owens – rather than substantiative issues.
Congressman Tony Cárdenas of California has asked Mark Zuckerberg how the company addresses misinformation targeting Latino users, noting studies that show Facebook catches less false content in Spanish than in English.
Zuckerberg responded that Facebook has an international fact checking program with workers in more than 80 countries speaking “a bunch of languages” including Spanish. He also said Facebook translates accurate information about Covid-19 vaccines and other issues from English into a number of languages.
Cárdenas noted the example of his Spanish-speaking mother-in-law saying she did not want to get a vaccine because she heard on social media it would place a microchip in her arm.
“For God’s sake, that to me is unbelievable, that she got that information on social media platforms,” he said. “Clearly Spanish language misinformation is an issue.”
Cárdenas was part of a coalition that signed a letter in March alleging that Facebook is not doing enough to combat “rampant Spanish-language disinformation” circulating on Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram that is putting Latino communities at risk.
It was signed along with the Facebook Oversight Board, an advocacy group, and groups including Free Press Action, the Center for American Progress and the National Hispanic Media Coalition.
The letter included specific requests including that Facebook appoint an executive to oversee Spanish-language content moderation and enforcement, increase transparency regarding content translation and algorithms, and hire more Spanish-language content moderators based in the United States.
Zuckerberg said that Facebook does have an executive in charge of content decisions but not for Spanish specifically.
Congresswoman asks executives to address anti-Asian hate speech
After a number of hate crimes against Asian Americans in recent weeks, Democratic representative Doris Matsui of California has directly asked Dorsey and Zuckerberg what they are doing to address anti-Asian hate on platforms. She also asked why they took so long to remove racist hashtags that promoted blame for the coronavirus pandemic on Asian Americans, citing the recent attack on Asian women in Atlanta as a consequence of these policies.
“The issues we are discussing here are not abstract,” she said. “They have real world consequences and implications that are too often measured in human lives.”
She also cited a study that showed a substantial rise in hate speech the week after Donald Trump first used the term China flu in a tweet. Matsui suggested revisiting Section 230 protections.
Dorsey said he will not ban the racist hashtags outright because “a lot of these hashtags contain counter speech”, or posts refuting the racism the hashtags initiated. Zuckerberg similarly said that hate speech policies at Facebook are “nuanced” and that they have an obligation to protect free speech.
Pichai and Dorsey said in response to questioning on Thursday that they are open to some of the Section 230 changes proposed by Facebook.
Section 230 is a communications law that shields platforms from legal liability for what is posted by their users. It has repeatedly been targeted in debates surrounding misinformation as allowing misinformation to flourish without accountability.
Pichai said Zuckerberg had some “good proposals” and that the company would “certainly welcome legislative approaches in that area”. Dorsey in favor, but slightly less enthusiastically, said “we think the ideas around transparency are good”. He said, however that small platforms should not be held to the same standards.
As Zuckerberg repeatedly dodges responsibility for Facebook’s role in the Stop the Steal movement and subsequent Capitol riot, some have noted Facebook is still allowing political ads using the phrase “stop the steal” and spreading misinformation.
Zuckerberg has repeatedly dodged questioning and evaded accepting responsibility for Facebook’s role in the 6 January insurrection.
Frank Pallone, Democratic representative from New Jersey, admonished the executives and Zuckerberg in particular for this. Dorsey unlike the other two did accept some acceptability for Twitter’s role in 6 January riots.
Addressing Pichai and Zuckerberg in particular, Pallone said “you definitely give the impression that you don’t think that you’re actively in any way promoting this misinformation and extremism,” he said.
“You’re not passive bystanders – you are not nonprofits or religious organizations that are trying to do a good job for humanity – you’re making money,” he said. “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.”
The most clear takeaway from the opening statements of both Congress members and the three executives in attendance is that we are seeing what we always see at tech hearings: Republicans shouting about “cancel culture” and perceived (and unproven) bias against conservatives on social media while Democrats attempt to address the erosion of democracy caused by misinformation and hate speech on social platforms.
Many have noted that this dichotomy has made it difficult to get anything done in the realm of tech regulation. While Republicans and Democrats both agree that tech has too much power and needs to be reined in, they have completely different perceptions of the reality of the situation and what to do about it.
See this thread from Daphne Keller, the platform regulation director at Stanford Cyber Policy Center, on why it is so interesting Zuckerberg is lobbying for Section 230 reform and more regulation, when in the past Facebook had been very against such legislation.
In other words, Facebook would like to help the very rules that moderate it. This may give it an advantage over other platforms, particularly smaller ones that may not have the resources to enforce the same extent of regulation that Facebook does.
Twitter’s Jack Dorsey makes opening statement
Jack Dorsey of Twitter gave his opening statements after Pichai, seeming to be videoing in from a sleek kitchen somewhere. His opening statements were live tweeted from his account on Twitter. You can read them in full below.
Google’s Sundar Pichai makes opening statement
Sundar Pichai of Google gave his opening statements next. He highlighted Google’s role in connecting users with vaccine information and other Covid-19 resources.
“We are energized by the opportunity to help people at scale and humbled by the responsibility that comes with it,” he said.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg makes opening statement
Now it’s time for opening statements from tech executives. First we have Mark Zuckerberg. He returns to his usual argument, which is that tech companies should not be making the decisions around what is allowed online.
As many have noted, this makes it easier for Facebook to shape policy that other companies may struggle to keep up with. He also stressed Facebook’s efforts to combat misinformation and its spread of vaccine information and called for Section 230 reform.
Protests outside the Capitol as tech hearing begins
Outside of the Capitol on Thursday protesters portrayed the tech executives testifying in front of Congress as violent insurrectionists whose images went viral in the days following the 6 January riots.
The protest was organized by SumOfUs, an 18 million member human rights advocacy organization. Executive director Emma Ruby-Sachs said Facebook’s inability to rein in ‘Stop the Steal’ content after the 2020 elections directly led to the riot.
“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,” she said. “After the past five years of manipulation, data harvesting, and surveillance, the time has come to rein in Big Tech.”
She added that Facebook’s micro-targeting and algorithms enabled groups that ultimately planned the insurrection. The report from SumOfUs also highlighted how ad tech platforms like Google and Amazon are funding and profiting off of disinformation websites. It said Google earned an estimated $19 million from Covid disinformation, and nearly 200 sites spreading electoral disinformation make over $1 million in ad revenue each month. Google accounts for 71% of all advertising dollars placed on the 200 disinformation sites.
“Lawmakers and the media tend to focus on Facebook and Twitter, while Google gets away with being a massive contributor to the disinformation machine. These websites have huge reach on Facebook, but are able to sustain themselves thanks to Google ads. Until Google changes its policies on the monetization of disinformation, the company is equally responsible for the violence on January 6,” said Ruby-Sachs.
Jan Schakowsky, a Democratic representative from Illinois, said in her opening statements announced she would be introducing a bill to address misinformation on social media called the Online Consumer Protection Act.
She cited the removal of Donald Trump from Twitter, which she said, citing a study, decreased misinformation 73% across social platforms. Indeed studies show a small number of individual social media “super spreaders” are responsible for the vast majority of misinformation. She did not give many details of the bill, but presumably it would address this.
“The witnesses here today have demonstrated time and time again, that self regulation has not worked,” she said. “They must be held accountable for allowing disinformation and misinformation to spread.”
My colleague David Smith wrote yesterday on why Mark Zuckerberg could be in for a rough ride before Congress today. The hearing will mark the first the Facebook CEO has appeared in front of lawmakers to address the platform’s role in fuelling the Capitol attack.
The testimony will come after signs that the new administration of Joe Biden is preparing to take a tougher line on the tech industry’s power, especially when it comes to the social media platforms and their role in spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories.
The question every politician should be asking is, what does Mark Zuckerberg want with us?
Zuckerberg will be joined by Sundar Pichai and Jack Dorsey, the chief executives of Google and Twitter respectively, at a hearing pointedly entitled “Disinformation nation: social media’s role in promoting extremism and misinformation” by the House of Representatives’ energy and commerce committee.
The scrutiny comes after a report found that Facebook allowed groups linked to the QAnon, boogaloo and militia movements to glorify violence during the 2020 election and weeks leading up to the deadly mob violence at the US Capitol.
Avaaz, a non-profit advocacy group, says it identified 267 pages and groups on Facebook that spread “violence-glorifying content” in the heat of the 2020 election to a combined following of 32 million users. More than two-thirds of the groups and pages had names aligned with several domestic extremist movements.
The top 100 most popular false or misleading stories on Facebook related to the elections received an estimated 162m views, the report found. Avaaz called on the White House and Congress to open an investigation into Facebook’s failures and urgently pass legislation to protect American democracy.
Read the full story below …
Hi, Kari Paul here – the Guardian’s west coast technology reporter – and I am going to be live blogging the next many hours of testimony from tech’s biggest CEOs: Sundar Pichai of Google, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, and Jack Dorsey of Twitter.
All three executives will be answering for the major missteps and controversies of their platforms in recent years, with a focus on misinformation and the use of social media leading up to the 6 January riots at the US Capitol that resulted in several deaths.
The hearing is titled Disinformation nation: social media’s role in promoting extremism and misinformation by the House of Representatives’ energy and commerce committee.
It is the latest in a record number of hearings for the tech space in the past year, as executives have repeatedly been called to the Hill to testify on antitrust issues, misinformation, and hate speech.
Police say officer who shot and killed unarmed Daunte Wright intended to fire Taser
Police in a Minneapolis suburb said an officer accidentally shot and killed a 20-year-old Black man on Sunday afternoon during a traffic stop, releasing graphic body-camera footage they say shows the officer intended to use a Taser not a handgun during the death of unarmed Daunte Wright.
The incident plunged the suburb of Brooklyn Center into a night of unrest as Minneapolis remains on edge during the murder trial of former officer Derek Chauvin over the death of George Floyd. Hundreds of protesters clashed with police in riot gear who deployed teargas and flash bangs to disperse the crowds.
At a press conference inside Brooklyn Center police headquarters, surrounded by riot police and national guard troops, the police chief, Tim Gannon, described the shooting as “an accidental discharge” and confirmed no weapon had been recovered from Wright’s vehicle.
The mayor of Brooklyn Center, Mike Elliott, said he had spoken to Joe Biden, who offered assistance.
“I want to say that our hearts are aching right now,” Elliott told reporters. “We are in pain right now. And we recognise that this couldn’t have happened at a worse time.
“We will get to the bottom of this. We will do all that is in our power to make sure that justice is done for Daunte Wright.”
Elliott also said he supported firing the officer involved, who was later identified as Kim Potter, a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center police department.
Protesters returned to the streets again on Monday evening, despite a 7pm curfew imposed by the governor of Minnesota. Hundreds of people gathered in the cold and rainy weather outside the Brooklyn Center police department, which was ringed by a metal fence, concrete barriers and police dressed in riot gear. Police later deployed flashbangs, teargas and smoke to disperse the crowd.
Earlier in the day,mourners and outraged community members had made their way to the site where Wright was killed. On a grey, damp morning, Ben Witz and his sister came to the site to lay balloons.
“This is more difficult because there was another, there was another unarmed shooting,” Witz said, explaining that family members lived in the area and that the community was still traumatized from Floyd’s killing and the unrest that followed.
“It seems like it’s a common occurrence now with the police,” Witz said. “It’s crazy what’s happening. It really is.”
The body-camera footage showed Wright being apprehended by two officers, when a third female officer approaches the scene. A struggle ensues and Wright gets back into his vehicle, at which point the female officer opens fire.
“Holy shit. I just shot him,” the officer is heard saying.
As the body-camera footage was released, a small group of activists in the police headquarters waiting area demanded the officer, who has not been identified, be fired immediately.
“Seeing the video just confirms what we already knew,” said Toshira Garraway, the founder of Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence. “It’s just killing after killing after killing.”
She added: “They will always say, ‘I was afraid, or it was an accident.’ But the fact of the matter is: this was a murder. If she is not fired, this is only going to escalate.”
Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, told reporters she was on the phone with her son as the encounter occurred. According to her account, reported by local TV news, her son called as he was being pulled over and asked about insurance for the vehicle, which she had recently given him.
She said she heard officers instruct her son to get out of the car and then “scuffling” shortly before the phone hung up.
“A minute later, I called and his girlfriend answered, who was the passenger in the car, and said that he’d been shot and she put it on the driver’s side, and my son was laying there lifeless,” she said.
Police said officers determined the driver had an outstanding warrant.
Heavily armored national guard troops worked to barricade the police station on Monday morning, as fewer than a dozen protesters faced the building across a road.
Two national guard Humvees, guardsmen carrying long guns and dozens of officers in riot gear were outside the station as police installed concrete blocks. A couple of members of the Original Black Panthers of Minneapolis group chatted with state troopers.
Witz, 40, a liquor store employee, said he was concerned the business would be vandalized if protests over Wright’s killing led to major unrest.
“It was like a war zone,” Witz said of the unrest that followed Floyd’s death. “And now we’re seeing it here and, I mean, why do we have to vandalize, I mean, I, as a white person I don’t get it, but I want to be educated.”
On Sunday evening, hundreds of protesters marched to the police station and were met by officers in riot gear who discharged teargas, flash-bangs and other munitions. Crowds had largely dispersed by midnight.
The Minnesota department of public safety commissioner, John Harrington, said around 20 businesses at the Shingle Creek shopping center were broken into. The mayor, Elliott, urged protesters “to be peaceful and that peaceful protesters are not dealt with force”.
Brooklyn Center is a suburb in north-west Minneapolis with a population of about 30,000. Tensions are high as the murder trial of Chauvin entered its third week.
Amid drizzle and grey skies on Monday, protesters such as Bethany Hemrich came to pay her respects near the site where Wright had been shot dead less than 24 hours before.
“As a mother of a Black child, I couldn’t even fathom,” Hemrich, who is white, said. “My son is 10, and I brought him to [the] George Floyd memorial and had to explain racism to him.”
As her voice broke, she continued: “They didn’t have to kill him. I feel like if it was a white person, they wouldn’t have shot him.”
Quinn Redeemed, 46, spoke of the tension in the area around police-involved deaths of Black people.
Redeemed said: “This just added gasoline to the fire. We’re tired and fired up. The world needs to really see what’s going on. And now, the world is watching Minnesota.”
Police kill student who fired at them at Tennessee high school, authorities say
A student at a Tennessee high school has been shot and killed by police after opening fire on officers responding to reports of a gunman on campus, authorities said on Monday.
David B Rausch, the director of the Tennessee bureau of investigation, said at a news conference that police found the student in a bathroom at Austin-East magnet high school in Knoxville, a city about 180 miles (290km) east of Nashville. They ordered him out, but he wouldn’t comply, and that is when he reportedly opened fire, Rausch said. Police fired back.
The student died at the school, and an officer was wounded and taken into surgery, authorities said. No one else was hurt.
“It’s a sad day for Knoxville, and it’s tough for Austin-East,” Rausch said.
Asked about the overwhelming police response to a call that came in just before afternoon dismissal, the Knoxville police chief, Eve Thomas, said, “We have a student, a school incident. It’s our worst fear, an active shooter in a school.”
The shooting comes as more classrooms are reopening to students after months of remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic, which cut down the number of mass killings in the US. The nation has seen series of mass shootings in recent weeks, including eight people killed at three Atlanta-area massage businesses on 16 March and 10 people killed at Colorado supermarket on 22 March.
Speaking outside a hospital, Knoxville’s mayor, Indya Kincannon, told WATE-TV that she had spoken with the wounded officer and he was conscious and in good spirits.
Kincannon, a former Knox county schools board president, spoke at a February press conference about the gun violence that took the lives of three Austin-East students less than three weeks apart this year. Two of the victims were 15, and the other was 16. The shootings did not take place in the school.
“I know that school is a safe place,” Kincannon said at that time, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. “It’s a place where people are learning … The issues with violence are happening in the community, and it’s affecting kids when they’re outside of the school. That’s why we are focusing our efforts to protect the innocent, protect the school, protect the children and students and staff.”
Bob Thomas, the superintendent of Knox county schools, tweeted on Monday that a shooting had occurred but the building had been secured.
“The school building has been secured and students who were not involved in the incident have been released to their families,” Thomas said.
He added in a separate tweet that authorities were gathering information and about “this tragic situation” and that additional information would be provided later.
Police urged people to avoid the area, adding that a reunification site had been set up on a baseball field behind the school for students to be reunited with family.
Last week, the Republican governor signed off on legislation that would make Tennessee the latest state to soon allow most adults 21 and older to carry handguns – openly or concealed – without first clearing a background check and training.
The state’s governor, Bill Lee, backed the legislation over objections from law enforcement groups, who argued that the state’s existing permit system provided an important safeguard for knowing who should or shouldn’t be carrying a gun.
The law, which does not apply to long guns, will take effect 1 July. The new measure also increases certain penalties relating to theft, and also makes exceptions for people with certain mental illnesses and criminal convictions.
Alex Rodriguez and billionaire Marc Lore near deal for NBA’s Timberwolves
Former MLB star Alex Rodriguez and billionaire Marc Lore appear to be close to owning the Minnesota Timberwolves, finalizing a deal with current owner Glen Taylor, according to reports.
The pair released a statement on Saturday:
“We look forward to entering this phase of the process with Glen Taylor. Our respect for him and the legacy he built lays an amazing foundation for what is to come. We are excited by the prospect of getting to know the Timberwolves organization, the talented team and their incredible fans.”
The letter of intent paves the way for a 30-day exclusive negotiating window. If a deal is finalized, they would first become minority owners, according to the Athletic, and in 2023, would gain full control.
The Athletic reported an agreement was reached on a $1.5bn price and that the team would remain in Minneapolis – a requirement from Taylor, who has owned the team for almost 30 years.
ESPN also reported the deal was being finalized.
Rodriguez attempted last year to buy the New York Mets alongside ex-fiancee Jennifer Lopez, and Lore was among the other partners in that bid.
Lore, a billionaire New York native, stepped down as Walmart CEO in January. The former entrepreneur created Jet.com (sold to Walmart for $3bn) and Diapers.com (sold to Amazon for $545m), among other business ventures.
A three-time AL MVP, Rodriguez retired in August 2016 with 698 home runs, a .295 average and 2,086 RBIs in 22 years. He was suspended for the 2014 season for violations of Major League Baseball’s drug agreement and labor contract.
A-Rod, now 45 years old, earned about $448m as a player. The 14-time All-Star started his career with Seattle, signed a record contract with Texas in December 2000, and then moved from shortstop to third base when he was traded from the Rangers to the New York Yankees ahead of the 2004 season.