Facebook, Twitter and Google have a lot to show to Congress

Facebook, Twitter and Google have a lot to prove to Congress

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Tech is when again in Washington’s spotlight, and not in a great way.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Larry Page, CEO of Google’s moms and dad business Alphabet, have actually been welcomed to affirm prior to committees on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

But they’re not there to spread out the gospel of totally free speech, the open web or the marvels of innovation. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence wishes to discuss “Foreign influence operations and their use of social media platforms.” The House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, on the other hand, has actually entitled its hearing “Twitter: Transparency and Accountability.”

“When decisions about data and content are made using opaque processes, the American people are right to raise concerns,” House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden stated in a declaration. “This committee intends to ask tough questions.”

It’s difficult to bear in mind that Silicon Valley was when the beloved of American market, seen by numerous as the nation’s ingenious heartland.

Four years back, 76 percent of web users Pew surveyed thought about the online social environment to be “mostly kind,” despite the fact that harassment was in fact a continuously event. Survey after study shone about tech and its effect on the world. Even approximately simply a year back, individuals were questioning whether Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg would one day run for chosen workplace– even president.

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Silicon Valley is in the Capitol Hill hot seat again


The honeymoon is decidedly over. The tech industry is mired in an endless string of scandals about Russian election interference, data privacy and censorship. More than half of Americans said earlier this year that the government should regulate tech companies, according to market research firm HarrisX. And all those people who felt the internet was “mostly kind” four years ago? Pew now says nearly two-thirds of US adults believe harassment is “a major problem,” and most of them believe it’s the tech industry’s job to fix it.

Which is why policy and government experts say Facebook, Twitter and Google’s upcoming testimony is just the beginning of a backlash against the tech industry.

“You’re starting to see people say, ‘Wait a minute, who are these companies and what are they doing? And what the hell have we been allowing them to do?'” said Paul Argenti, a professor of corporate communications at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. “The bubble has burst, the saber swords are out.”

Facebook, Twitter and Google each declined to make executives available for interviews before Wednesday’s testimonies.

More questions, more fixes

When Mark Zuckerberg testified on Capitol Hill in April, it was ostensibly about data privacy. But lawmakers also asked about censorship and election interference too.

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Zuckerberg talked about data privacy when he sat before three congressional committees over two days in April. Facebook had just admitted that up to 87 million people’s account information had been leaked to Cambridge Analytica without their permission. While there, lawmakers pushed him about how Facebook could have let Russian election interference happen despite the obvious clues (among other things, political ads were being paid for in Russian rubles).

In the nearly half year since his testimony, the tech industry has attempted a number of reforms. Facebook, for example, has cut off access to people who abuse its data. It’s also banned hundreds of accounts suspected of using its service to interfere in elections worldwide and spread false news. Both Facebook and Twitter now have websites showing the political ads that have run on their platforms, including how much was spent and how many people they reached.

“It shows that they’re listening; they’ve committed resources and they recognize there’s a problem,” said James Norton, who had been a deputy assistant for the Department of Homeland Security in the George W. Bush administration.

The question now, he said, is whether their efforts will be enough to satisfy Congress. If so, the companies will likely be asked to return after the midterm elections. But if Wednesday’s hearings go poorly, the companies could be summoned to testify even earlier.

“We, I think, have only begun to do our oversight,” Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, said in an April interview.

That’s assuming members of Congress understand the nuances of what they’re hearing. Zuckerberg’s testimony on Capitol Hill exposed how poorly some lawmakers understand technology or the industry behind it.

“If [a version of Facebook will always be free], how do you sustain a service design in which users do not spend for your service?”Sen Orrin Hatch, the 84- year-old Republican from Utah, asked early in the Senate’s five-hour hearing.

Zuckerberg stopped briefly a minute as if stunned by the concern, then responded to, “Senator, we run ads.” The personnel sitting behind him smiled at the reaction.

Later,Sen Brian Schatz asked if Facebook would be able see what he “emailed” somebody over WhatsApp. “Senator no,” Zuckerberg responded. “WhatsApp is encrypted. We can’t see any of that.”

That’s why Schiff, who’s both a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and a reported competitor to end up being the next Speaker of the House, stated he anticipates fellow legislators will do their research. “Silicon Valley and social media are not the only complicated issues that we deal with here.”

The concern now will be whether these hearings will mark a turn-around of public understanding, or a tipping point when things became worse.

Both the Senate and House hearings will be brought live on tv and streamed over the web. The Senate hearing starts at 9: 30 a.m. ET/6: 30 a.m. PT and can be enjoyed here. The House hearing will start at 1: 30 p.m. ET/10: 30 a.m. PT and can be enjoyed here.

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