US lawmakers, tech CEOs clash over disinformation

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US lawmakers unleashed a torrent of criticism against social media top executives on Thursday, blaming the companies for amplifying false content and calls to violence, while promising new regulations to stem rampant online disinformation.

The video hearing attended remotely by top executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter got off to a stormy start as lawmakers accused them of intentionally making products that get people hooked.

“Big Tech is essentially handing our children a lit cigarette and hoping they stay addicted for life,” said Ohio Republican Congressman Bill Johnson.

“Former Facebook executives have admitted that they use the tobacco industry’s playbook for addictive products.”

Congressman Frank Pallone told the executives that it is time for legislation that forces more aggressive action to eliminate disinformation and extremism from online platforms.

Social media apps are displayed on a mobile device. PHOTO: AFP

Jack Dorsey of Twitter, Sundar Pichai of Google, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook were bombarded with questions for some six hours by members of Congress who blamed their platforms for drug abuse, hate, political extremism, illegal immigration, vaccine bashing and more.

“They didn’t mention cancer, but they might as well have because they mentioned everything else,” Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi said. “It was sad political theatre.”

Democrats slammed the platforms for failing to stem misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines and incitement ahead of the January 6 Capitol riot. Republicans revived unproven complaints that social networks were biased against conservatives.

Republican Representative Bob Latta accused the firms of operating “in a vague and biased manner, with little to no accountability”, relying on a law giving them a “shield” against liability for content posted by others.

“People want to use your services, but they suspect your coders are designing what they think we should see and hear,” said Republican Gus Bilirakis.

The tech chief executive officers said they were doing their best to keep out harmful content. “We believe in free expression, we believe in free debate and conversation to find the truth,” said Dorsey.