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Explained: Why CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google being grilled by authorities?

Explained: Why CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google being grilled by authorities?

Explained: Why CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google being grilled by authorities?
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By CNBCTV18.com Mar 27, 2021 10:40:10 AM IST (Updated)

The lawmakers questioned the CEOs over their platforms spreading misinformation about the US presidential election and COVID-19 vaccine among others.

Chief executive officers (CEOs) of Facebook, Google and Twitter testified about the role of social media platforms in spreading misinformation, especially in the backdrop of the US Capitol riots -- that took place on January 6. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter Chief Jack Dorsey testified before a joint hearing by two subcommittees of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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The hearing began with lawmakers criticising social media platforms for spreading misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines and their role in the US Capitol riots. The World Health Organization (WHO) flagged challenges of overabundance of information related to COVID-19 on social media and said that some of the information may be false and potentially harmful. 
The Capitol incident
On January 6, 2021, former US president Donald Trump addressed a crowd at Ellipse behind the White House just before noon when he reportedly told the gathering that the US Presidential Election "was stolen from you, from me, from the country". He allegedly on his supporters to march on to the US Capitol, where Congress convened to validate Joe Biden's presidential win, saying he would walk with them.
He reportedly returned to the White House and by afternoon, a huge assembly of people ran amok at the Capitol. Protesters breached barricades and advanced into the Capitol building, smashing windows and brawling with police officers. Subsequently, a citywide curfew was ordered at Washington DC beginning 6 pm.
In the evening, however, Trump tweeted a video downplaying the event and told his followers: "I know your pain, I know you're hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us." He again tweeted late in the evening, stating: "These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!"
Following this, Twitter banned Trump's handle from the social media platform. The incident is considered as one of the worst security breaches in US history, resulting in five deaths.
What was the role of social media?
According to NPR, the New York Police Department, in late December 2020, had sent inputs to the US Capitol Police and the Washington Field Office of the FBI about information scraped from various social media sites, indicating that there is likelihood of violence when lawmakers certify the presidential election results on January 6.
In fact, it all started with a tweet by former President Trump on December 19, 2020: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”
According to NPR, rioters stated their plans openly on a host of social media sites.
What did the Congress tell social media giants on March 25?
Republicans and Democrats on the panel criticised the tech giants alike. Democratic representative Frank Pallone, chair of the Energy and Commerce committee, told the three CEOs that their platforms played a role in “fomenting insurrection and abetting the spread of the virus and trampling American civil liberties”.
“Your business model itself has become the problem and the time for self-regulation is over. It’s time we legislate to hold you accountable,” he said, as reported by Hindustan Times.
Jan Schakowsky, chair of the Consumer Protection and Commerce sub-committee, in an opening statement, said they must be held accountable for allowing misinformation to spread across their platforms, infect the public discourse, and “threaten our democracy”.
Republicans, however, criticised the tech giants for their "efforts to stifle conservative voices".
What was the tech executives' response?
In his opening remarks, Zuckerberg proposed a third party to determine whether a company’s systems are adequate.
Pichai, whose company’s internet search engine is the most popular, signalled that he was opposed to any changes to the concerned law. “Reforming it or repealing it altogether would have unintended consequences — harming both free expression and the ability of platforms to take responsible action to protect users in the face of constantly evolving challenges,” he said in his testimony, as reported by Hindustan Times.
Jack Dorsey, while defending his companies’ efforts to weed out toxic content, said that he doesn’t think they should be the arbiters of truth “and I don’t think the government should be either”.
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