Next week, policy executives from Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter will testify at a U.S. Senate Judiciary hearing on algorithmic amplification, Politico reports. Social media recommendation algorithms have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, and Democratic lawmakers have voiced concerns about how they can fuel extremism and the spread of misinformation online.
The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law is hosting the hearing, which is scheduled for April 28. It will feature testimony from Monika Bickert, Facebook’s vice president of content policy; Lauren Culbertson, Twitter’s head of U.S. public policy; and Alexandra Veitch, YouTube’s director of government affairs and public policy for the Americas and emerging markets. The panel will also hear from two outside experts: Tristan Harris, president of the Centre for Humane Technology, and Joan Donovan, research director at the Shorenstein Centre on Media, Politics, and Public Policy.
Congressional aides that spoke with Politico said the committee may call on big tech CEOs like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey for future panels. Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, who chairs the subcommittee, said he was considering that option in an interview with the outlet last month.
However, by first hauling in the platforms’ policy executives instead of their CEOs, the panel aims to focus discussions on structural issues and content moderation and avoid “the typical airing of grievances” about the platforms at large that have dominated previous hearings, according to the congressional aides. They also hope to drum up bipartisan support by focusing on these sorts of systemic issues as opposed to how platforms handle specific content, such as political speech, Politico’s sources said.
Democratic lawmakers have been increasingly pushing to hold social media platforms accountable for how their recommendation algorithms amplify harmful and extremist content. In January, House Representatives Tom Malinowski of New Jersey and Anna Eshoo of California sent a series of letters to Big Tech CEOs calling on them to rework their recommendation systems, particularly in the wake of the Capitol Hill attack on January 6. Last month, Malinowski and Eshoo reintroduced legislation to amend Section 230 so that online platforms lose liability immunity if these systems promote content that leads to real-world harms, such as acts of terrorism or civil rights violations.
On Friday, Coon reiterated his concerns about algorithmic amplification and outlined plans to make holding social media companies accountable one of his subcommittee’s top priorities.
“Social media platforms use algorithms that shape what billions of people read, watch and think every day, but we know very little about how these systems operate and how they’re affecting our society,” he told Politico. “Increasingly, we’re hearing that these algorithms are amplifying misinformation, feeding political polarisation and making us more distracted and isolated.”
The hearing is slated to begin at 12 a.m. AEST on Wednesday April 28 and will be livestreamed on the Senate Judiciary’s website here.