Yes or no: are these technical hearings doing anything?


In the middle of the first hearing of the year with the chief executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter on Thursday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted a poll. It was just a question mark with two answers: yes and no.

It was a clear troll aimed at the lawmakers who questioned Dorsey, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai about the role their platforms have played in spreading misinformation and instigating a violent uprising in the US Capitol before. this year. With limited time for questioning, the members interrupted the CEOs’ answers and asked for “yes” or “no” answers or nothing at all.

But while the hearing focused on finding solutions to some of the most serious free speech conflicts in history, Dorsey’s tweet symbolized how seriously everyone took it – not very seriously at all.


It is not the first time that Zuckerberg, Dorsey and Pichai have testified before Congress. But it was the first time they were brought in after a pro-Trump gang attacked the Capitol on January 6 and killed several people. QAnon followers and right-wing online influencers were just a few of the individuals who took part in the attack, which was largely organized and live-streamed on social media.

Prior to the Hearing, Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ) told Politics “This isn’t a hearing just to hear the same old thing.” He continued: “We want to know what we can legally do. We want to pass laws. “

But even after a direct insult to democracy, lawmakers were disorganized and commented on the cancellation culture, Mr. Potato Head, and the merging of competition, privacy and moderation into a hugely unsolvable problem.

Leading up to Thursday’s hearing, only one lawmaker, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Legislation, Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act. And Rep. Jan Schakelowsky (D-IL) held an event to discuss section 230 reform.

But after the hearing, it does not appear that Parliament has gotten any closer to drafting real legislative reforms. In other words, Congress has failed to ignore their personal grievances and provide real solutions.

In some cases, lawmakers asked the technical managers to do more than they could achieve themselves. Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA) incited executives to the rise of anti-Asian violence and hate speech. But as my boss Nilay Patel rightly pointed out on Twitter, the US has no policy on hate speech and it would be difficult to pass a related law.

In the past, billing prompted technology companies to take action on their own. After the 2016 presidential election, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mark Warner (D-VA) the Honest Ads Act. The bill was never passed, but it put pressure on Facebook and Google to host their own transparent ad databases. But when it comes to content moderation and Section 230 reform, Facebook, Google and Twitter are largely opposed to major legislative changes. Any meaningful reform will have to come from Congress.

Shortly after the January 6 attack, Warner, Klobuchar and Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) introduced the SAFE TECH Act, which would open new avenues for users to sue tech companies if content posted on their platforms personally threatens them with harassment. discrimination or other forms of abuse. The Eshoo bill would remove the Article 230 immunity when it is proven that a platform’s algorithm has promoted or recommended content related to acts of terrorism or civil rights violations.

Still, none of these bills have received a hearing or much bipartisan support. In the Senate, Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) will chair the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on privacy and technology. In an interview with Politics earlier this month, Coons said Congress in some cases inaction is a better option.

“In an area where technology is evolving quite quickly, sometimes oversight hearings, letters [and] discussions with the leaders of major social media companies could lead those companies to change their practices arguably faster than we can envision in legislation, ”said Coons Politics

But when do the hearings fail to enforce the change Congress wants? On Thursday it seemed as if we were fast approaching that threshold. Little new information was discovered about Zuckerberg and Pichai. Dorsey loved tweets and sent crazy polls.


Coons told Politics that his Senate panel plans to bring these executives back for another hearing sometime in the future. But it is not clear when that will happen. Most technological reform measures likely come from the House Judiciary Committee. Last week, that committee completed its latest antitrust hearing on technology. Chairman told Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) Axios to expect a torrent of competitive accounts in the coming weeks.

“My strategy is that you will see a number of accounts being introduced, both because it is more difficult [the tech companies] to manage and counter ten bills, instead of one, ”said Cicillin Axios