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Five things to watch as Facebook, Google, Twitter CEOs testify in Congress


The CEOs of Facebook, Google parent Alphabet, and Twitter testify before Congress on Thursday for the first time since pro-Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, an attack in which critics say social media played a crucial role.

Here are five things to watch for in the testimony of Facebook Inc’s Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai of Alphabet Inc and Twitter Inc’s Jack Dorsey before two subcommittees of the Energy and Commerce Committee:

ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA IN THE CAPITOL VIOLENCE

After the November presidential election, false narratives about voting fraud on social media and elsewhere helped to spur supporters of former President Donald Trump to storm the Capitol, the seat of U.S. government, on Jan. 6. Lawmakers will likely ask about social media’s role in inciting the violence.

The non-profit Avaaz said in a new report this week that it had identified 267 Facebook pages and groups – including “Stop the Steal” groups – with some 32 million followers that spread content glorifying violence late last year. Facebook took issue with the report, it said.

SHOULD SECTION 230 BE CHANGED?

The tech platforms have long lobbied to protect Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields online platforms from liability over user content, while some Republicans have advocated that it be scrapped and several bipartisan proposals have suggested revising it.

Facebook’s Zuckerberg suggested in written testimony released on Wednesday that it be changed to give platforms immunity from liability if they follow best practices for removing damaging material from their platforms.

Google’s Pichai and Twitter’s Dorsey proposed approaches such as developing content policies that are transparent and giving users ways to appeal decisions.

HAS TRUMP TWEETED FOR THE LAST TIME?

Republican lawmakers were angered by the decisions to suspend Trump from Facebook and Twitter in the waning days of his administration, and what they see as a general stifling of conservative voices.

Republicans may pressure the CEOs to reverse course. Or they may decide that the suspensions are no big deal since Trump has apparently decided to launch his own platform in coming months.

A PANDEMIC OF MISINFORMATION

Lawmakers have been aggravated by widespread misinformation online about COVID-19, including how serious and real the pandemic is, bogus treatments for the coronavirus and whether vaccines to inoculate people against it are safe.

Facebook said recently that it removed more than 12 million pieces of content about COVID-19 and vaccines that global health experts flagged as misinformation.

Still, the Center for Countering Digital Hate said in a report this week that all three platforms had failed to satisfactorily enforce their vaccine misinformation policies and attorneys general for 12 states said Facebook and Twitter needed to do more to combat the problem.

WHAT ARE PLATFORMS DOING TO STOP MISINFORMATION?

The platforms have invested in content moderation aimed at curbing misinformation and introduced a flurry of new rules in recent months.

Zuckerberg in his testimony will talk about its third-party fact-checking network and how Facebook promotes authoritative information. He will also continue to emphasize that Facebook is not about political content for most users. Dorsey will talk about Twitter’s misinformation policies and plans, such as its fact-checking experiment Birdwatch.

Pichai in written testimony on Wednesday also listed actions taken by Google after Jan. 6, such as giving authoritative news sources a higher profile.

Lawmakers may ask the platforms whether actions after the assault on Congress were too little, too late.



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