Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Alphabet Inc. CEO Sundar Pichai, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey were grilled by the Boomers of Congress on Thursday.
Zuckerberg and Pichai both video’d in from what looked like very smart offices. Dorsey, on the other hand, was in his kitchen and had an aura of “I wish I was literally anywhere else.”
It isn’t the first time Zuckerberg, Pichai, and Dorsey have testified before Congress. But this hearing is focused on misinformation and extremism, particularly after the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. Much of the hearing focused on just that: how misinformation spreads on these platforms and how government regulation could step in.
But we also got some other information.
Of the three CEOs, only Pichai has received his vaccination, but both Dorsey and Zuckerberg intend to once it’s accessible for them.
Zuckerberg’s 5-year-old daughter uses Messenger Kids to talk to her cousins.
All three CEOs know the difference between “yes” and “no.”
Pichai is the only CEO who watched The Social Dilemma.
Dorsey owns a $400 blockchain clock.
The three CEOs were grilled on plenty of other topics, as is customary with a Congressional hearing. Here are a few of them:
Impact on children
Big Tech does a spectacular job of bringing Democrats and Republicans together, a camaraderie that was remarkably displayed as multiple lawmakers questioned the three CEOs about how their platforms effect children and teens.
Republican Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers told the CEOs that their platforms are her “biggest fear as a parent.” She said social media leads to greater rates of depression and suicide among teens and children.
“What will it take for your business model to stop harming children?” she asked. “I know I speak for millions of moms when I say we need answers and we will not rest until we get them.”
Later on during the hearing, Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) took Zuckerberg to task about studies on how negatively social media can affect kids. Zuckerberg only responded: “Congresswoman, I’m aware of the issues.”
Zuckerberg also said he knows that “clearly a large number” of children under the age of 13 are already finding ways onto Instagram.
“The problem is that you know it,” Castor said. “You know that the brain and social development of our kids is still evolving at a young age. There are reasons in the law that we set that [13-year-old age limit] because these platforms have ignored it. They’ve profited off of it. We’re going to strengthen the law.”
During Thursday’s hearing, multiple lawmakers also asked Zuckerberg about Spanish-language misinformation in the U.S.
“There seems to be a disparity between the different languages that are used on your platform in America,” Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) said during his line of questioning to Zuckerberg. He brought up a study from the human rights non-profit Avaaz which showed that while 70% of misinformation in English is flagged with warning labels, just 30% of comparable misinformation in Spanish is flagged. “What kind of investment is facebook making on the different languages to make sure that we have more of an accuracy of flagging that disinformation and misinformation?” he asked.
Zuckerberg said in the U.S., they already have English- and Spanish-speaking fact-checkers. When Cárdenas asked if Zuckerberg thought he had done enough to combat Spanish-language misinformation and disinformation, he said Facebook has “already increased investments in moderating Spanish-language misinformation.”
“We’ve done more than basically any other company,” Zuckerberg said. “But I think that there’s still a problem and there’s still more than needs to be done.”
Later in the hearing, Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL) also asked Zuckerberg if he would publicly commit to further addressing Spanish-language disinformation on Facebook, which Zuckerberg said he would do.
Congress has been chatting about how they’re going to change or get rid of Section 230, a law that protects tech companies from some lawsuits. All three of the CEOs seemed open, if not enthusiastic, about making changes to the decades-old law.
In his written testimony, Zuckerberg proposed some changes to the law, which he reiterated throughout Thursdays hearings. He said the updated law should require more transparency from tech companies about their rules and how they enforce them. He said there should be a better system for handling illegal content on the platforms. And he said most of the new rules should apply only to larger platforms, in an effort to not impede on smaller tech companies just getting their start.
Dorsey and Pichai said on Thursday that they would be open to Section 230 changes, too. Pichai said Twitter would “certainly welcome legislative approaches in that area.” Dorsey said he thinks “ideas around transparency are good.” But he appeared to be a bit more hesitant on Zuckerberg’s third point, saying it would be “very hard to determine what’s a large platform and what’s a small platform.”