Twitter not based on ‘political ideology,’ CEO tells lawmakers

Jennifer Ramirez
September 6, 2018

At a separate Senate hearing earlier on Wednesday, Dorsey and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg faced threats of legislative action from skeptical lawmakers over what many members of Congress see as a failure to block fake accounts and other foreign efforts to influence USA politics.

During Wednesday's hearing, Sandberg reiterated that such threats would continue and that Facebook would keep working to address them.

The leaders defended their practices of censorship and sharing personal data with third parties as lawmakers called for greater federal regulations to ensure the United States does not repeat the mistakes of the 2016 presidential election, where Russian Federation played a key role in infiltrating these social media sites. That scrutiny has led to additional criticism over the companies' respect for user privacy and whether conservatives are being censored - frustrations that are particularly heightened ahead of the midterms.

In an interview with The Daily Caller published on Wednesday, Trump said the companies had a liberal bias that played out during the 2016 election campaign that won him the White House.

Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-V.A.) echoed that sentiment.

Warner said social media companies were doing better at combating disinformation, but their efforts were insufficient.

Trump faulted Twitter on July 26, without citing any evidence, for limiting the visibility of prominent Republicans through a practice known as shadow banning. Twitter denies that is happening. "Because I know our members have a series of hard questions about structural vulnerabilities on a number of Google's platforms that we will need answered".

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Google rejected requests to send its CEO Sundar Pichai or parent firm Alphabet chief Larry Page, but offered a writted statement from its chief legal officer Kent Walker.

Lawmakers also criticized Alphabet Inc's (GOOGL.O) Google for refusing to send top executives to testify in the Senate on foreign efforts to influence USA politics, with just weeks before the November 6 congressional elections.

"Last month, after Twitter's controversial decision to allow conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to remain on its platform, Mr. Dorsey told one person that he had overruled a decision by his staff to kick Mr. Jones off, according to a person familiar with the discussion", The Journal reports. What is clear is that the hands-off business models that made these companies their fortunes must change.

"We were too slow to spot this and too slow to act", Sandberg told the committee in her opening statement.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has been looking into Russian efforts to influence USA public opinion throughout Trump's presidency, after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that entities backed by the Kremlin had sought to boost his chances of winning the White House in 2016. He said Twitter has so far suspended 3,843 accounts the company believes are linked to the agency, and has seen recent activity.

To make his point, Dorsey said Twitter conducted a study of all the tweets sent by members of the House and Senate.

Only Dorsey was invited to the House hearing after specific Republican concerns about bias on Twitter. Google and other tech companies have denied any political bias.

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