Senate hearing flashes signs of action on regulating tech

All sides agree: More transparency is needed, pronto

Republicans, Democrats and even the Silicon Valley chiefs found one area of agreement: Tech companies need to be more transparent about what their content policies are and how they enforce them.

“We’ve got to find a way to make sure that when Twitter and Facebook make a decision about what’s reliable and what’s not, what to keep up and what to take down, that there’s transparency in the system,” Graham said in his opening remarks.

Zuckerberg even suggested creating a “regulatory framework” where companies must publish transparency reports that show how effective they’ve been at enforcing their rules.

That didn’t satisfy all the lawmakers, though. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), an outspoken critic of Twitter and Facebook, pressed both CEOs to answer in writing how often their companies have “blocked” posts by Democrats and Republicans in the past three federal elections.

After Dorsey said Twitter would “certainly look into it,” Cruz accused him of using “lawyerly double-speak” to dodge the question. Zuckerberg said he wasn’t sure Facebook had such data, but that it would follow-up with Cruz’s office.

“I’m going to take that as a ‘yes,’ and Twitter, we’ll see if that’s a ‘yes,’ or, ‘transparency is bogus and we don’t intend to provide it,’” Cruz shot back.

Conservative bias claims pervade the conversation (again)

There was no way for Tuesday’s hearing to pass without a partisan tug-of-war over allegations of political bias.

Republicans, especially those close to Trump, have insisted that social media platforms censor conservative points of view. Increased efforts by Facebook and Twitter to label misleading posts from the president and his backers fueled even more of those accusations Tuesday, even as Democrats accused the companies of allowing Trump to spread falsehoods about his reelection defeat.

“It’s dismaying listening to the questions from our Democratic colleagues, because consistently the message from Senate Democrats is for Facebook and Twitter and Google to censor more, to abuse their power more, to silence voices that Senate Democrats disagree with more,” Cruz said.

“That is very dangerous if we want to maintain a free and fair democracy,” he continued.

But Democrats did not back down. They have pressured social media companies throughout the election to more rigorously fact-check political posts and ads, and to block disinformation before it goes viral.

“You’ve been called before the Senate committee so my Republican colleagues can beat you up over claims that your platforms are supposedly biased against conservatives,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) told Dorsey and Zuckerberg. “The fact of the matter is that these allegations are completely baseless.”

“The way I see it, this hearing is a transparent effort by my Republican colleagues to work the refs,” she added.

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