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Google, Facebook and Twitter bosses back in front of Congress

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                The United States Congress will hear, Thursday, Sundar Pichai, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, the bosses of Google, Facebook and Twitter, to assess their efforts to fight against online disinformation, more than two months after the assault on the Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump.

                                    <p>It's a face-to-face meeting that we are starting to get used to.  For Mark Zuckerberg, the boss of Facebook, and Jack Dorsey, that of Twitter, this will be the fourth hearing before Congress since July 2020. Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, will make his third appearance in front of American elected officials , Thursday March 25.

This time around, the three Silicon Valley pundits will have to answer for the role of their platforms in the proliferation of disinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic and the US presidential election in November. Elected officials will seek in particular to determine to what extent social networks have helped to facilitate the organization of the assault on the Capitol, led on January 6 by supporters of Donald Trump.

Facebook, main target

It is probably Mark Zuckerberg who will have the worst role. The Democrats have already started to increase the pressure by sending him a letter in early March, including astonishment that Facebook displays ads for firearms alongside messages praising the assailants of January 6. “These targeted advertisements can potentially incite violence,” note the authors of the missive.

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The boss of Facebook should also be asked about the results of several studies published at the end of 2020 highlighting that the social network’s algorithm tended to push certain users to subscribe to the pages of extremist groups. Above all, despite these warnings from academics and the closure of accounts decided by Facebook, these extremist movements “continue to organize themselves on the platform”, underlines the TechCrunch site.

But the other leaders of these Internet behemoths should not be spared either. Starting with Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google. YouTube has indeed been criticized for its slowness in taking measures to fight against electoral disinformation after Joe Biden’s victory against Donald Trump. The video-sharing site didn’t put in place new, stricter rules until a month after the results were announced.

Twitter, for its part, has been relatively more transparent in the implementation of the new rules and quick to crack down on the deluge of “fake news” linked to the pandemic or the American elections. Twitter was the first social network to kick Donald Trump out of its platform.

This speed to react should make Jack Dorsey the favorite target of the Republican Party during the hearing. Conservatives believe that the boss of the famous microblogging network, suspected of sympathy for the Democrats, jumped at the opportunity to abusively silence right-wing voices under the pretext of fighting against disinformation.

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New political context

For its part, the triumvirate of Tech giants should “repeat and detail the various investment efforts made to better detect and erase contentious content,” said Carolina Milanesi, specialist in social networks for the American firm Creative Strategies, interviewed by Reuters.

In that sense, Thursday’s auditions should have an air of déjà vu. The defense strategy of those responsible for these platforms has always been to highlight the measures already in place while apologizing for the disinformation or hateful content that passes through their cracks.

But the political context has changed in the United States. This time around, it’s Joe Biden who is in the White House, and the new president seems determined to put more sticks in the wheels of Gafam (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft) than his predecessor.

Since taking office, he has already appointed two ardent critics of the giants of Silicon Valley to key positions in the administration. In addition, alongside the hearing of Jack Dorsey, Sundar Pichai and Mark Zuckerberg, the House of Representatives will also discuss, Thursday, new rules to better regulate the economic power of these behemoths.

In this regard, it should be interesting to see how these CEOs react to attacks from elected officials. This hearing could well constitute the first act of the showdown between the new administration and Big Tech.


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