Here We Go Again: Senate to Grill Facebook, Google and Twitter Execs on ‘Amplification’

April 26th, 2021 4:18 PM

The Senate has called Facebook, Twitter and Google executives back into the spotlight to testify before a subcommittee on the role their algorithms play in online discourse.

High-ranking Facebook, Twitter and Google employees will testify before the Senate Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law on April 27. The name of the hearing suggested that it would focus on social media algorithms and amplification.

“Democratic lawmakers are increasingly sounding the alarm about how digital platforms’ algorithms can contribute to the spread of misinformation, hate speech and extremist content by boosting the visibility of harmful material to users,” Politico reported.

The CEOs of the three Big Tech companies have not been listed as witnesses in the hearing titled: “Algorithms and Amplification: How Social Media Platforms’ Design Choices Shape Our Discourse and Our Minds.”

“Amplification” has been a massive buzzword for Twitter, which admitted that it has “de-amplified” tweets with a fact-check label. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey also criticized a speech from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2019, in which Zuckerberg argued that Facebook’s “approach to content” was “rooted in the First Amendment and American tradition,” according to Fox Business

“We talk a lot about speech and expression and we don’t talk about reach enough, and we don’t talk about amplification,” said Dorsey. “And reach and amplification was not represented in that speech.”

The Subcommittee named Facebook Vice President for Content Policy Monika Bickert and Twitter Head of U.S. Public Policy Lauren Culbertson as witnesses. The subcommittee also named Alexandra Veitch, Director of Government Affairs and Public Policy for the Americas and Emerging Markets for YouTube, to testify.  

Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), the subcommittee’s chairman, originally hinted at having the Big Tech companies testify in March. At the time, Politico reported that “Coons said he expects the panel will push to bring in top Silicon Valley executives for hearings, including the chiefs of Twitter and Facebook.” 

The senators have the opportunity to question the companies on their practices despite not having Big Tech CEOs scheduled to attend the hearing. “This isn’t a show hearing to pound the table -- it’s a chance to learn,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), the ranking member of the subcommittee, reportedly said in a statement. “I want to dig into the role of algorithms in spreading information and shaping behavioral health.”

Some Big Tech hearings in the past have featured some semblance of bipartisan cooperation, like the Feb. 25 antitrust hearing in the House. Republicans and Democrats appeared to agree that Big Tech’s market power was a problem. Other hearings, however, were more accurately described as dumpster fires. In a March 25 hearing, for example, House GOP members bashed Big Tech for acting “like the judge and jury” of censorship, while Democratic members whined about “disinformation and extremist content.”

Conservatives are under attack. Contact your representatives and demand that Big Tech be held to account to mirror the First Amendment while providing transparency, clarity on “hate speech” and equal footing for conservatives. If you have been censored, contact us at the Media Research Center contact form, and help us hold Big Tech accountable.