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3 heated and funny moments from Big Tech’s Congressional grilling today

March 25, 2021, 9:59 PM UTC

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Frustrated about years of misinformation and extremism on social media, legislators bombarded the CEOs of Facebook, Alphabet, and Twitter with criticism and pointed questions on Thursday. 

The executives defended themselves, as they have in previous Congressional hearings, by citing their work to combat hate speech and COVID-19 falsehoods. But this time, several House members pushed back and attacked them for failing to police their sites and prevent real-world harm. 

“Our nation is drowning in disinformation, driven by social media platforms that were once used to share photos of kids with grandparents,” Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA), said during the House Committee on Energy & Commerce hearing. “The power of this technology is awesome and terrifying, and each of you has failed to protect your users and the world from the worst consequences of your creations.”

Some legislators did try to explore potential solutions for future regulation. But several preferred to give a monologue: “What our witnesses today need to take away from this hearing is that self regulation has come to the end of its road,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

Here are some of the most heated statements and funny moments from the hearing.

‘Supercharging’ extremism

Rep. Doyle began his questions with a request for the executives: Yes or no answers only. He first asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey if their services barred any responsibility for misinformation that led to Stop the Steal, the movement that falsely claimed the 2020 presidential election was stolen, and that ultimately to the U.S. Capitol riot. After Zuckerberg refused to give a “yes” or “no,” Doyle jumped in.

“How is it possible for you not to at least admit that Facebook played a central role or a leading role in facilitating the recruitment planning and execution of the attack on the Capitol?” Doyle asked.

Zuckerberg responded, referring to then-President Donald Trump. “My point is that I think that the responsibility here lies with the people who took the actions to break the law and … also the people who spread that content, including the President.”

“Your platforms supercharged that,” Doyle retorted. “You took a thing and magnified it … You put our lives and our democracy at risk and many of us just find this just not acceptable.”

Dorsey took more responsibility by answering that Twitter did bear some responsibility.

Don’t filibuster here

Rep. Anna Eschoo (D-Calif.), asked Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google parent company Alphabet, about the videos YouTube recommends to users. She voiced concern that YouTube was incentivized to recommend problematic content, which often gets more clicks, to sell more ads. She wanted YouTube to overhaul its recommendation system, which Pichai said has already happened several times. 

“Are you saying the Anti-Defamation League doesn’t know what they’re talking about and all these journalists and researchers” too?” Eschoo asked, referring to reports that YouTube recommends harmful content. “That’s why I’m asking you if you’re willing to overhaul YouTube’s core recommendation engine?”

“If I may explain,” Pichai said.

“I don’t have time for you to explain,” Eschoo said before bringing up a very hot and current topic in the other congressional branch. “We don’t do filibuster in the House. That’s something that’s done in the Senate.”

Twitter chief caught tweeting

Finally, Dorsey got caught tweeting during the hearing. Within the first hour of the hearing, he had already “liked” several tweets by others. But when Rep. Billy Long (R-MO) condescendingly asked the three executives whether they understood the difference between “yes” and “no,” Dorsey tweeted a poll that asked Twitter users “yes” or “no.”

Several hours later, Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY), who had clearly learned about the poll, asked, Mr. Dorsey whether “yes” or “no” was winning. Dorsey responded with a smile and a quick “yes”.

“Your multitasking skills are quite impressive,” Rice said.

Following the exchange, and while still giving testimony, Dorsey responded to at least one additional tweet from someone else.