[News] Congress grills Big Tech execs
The CEOs of Twitter, Facebook, and Alphabet/Google testified in a hearing to the US Congress on Friday, March 26. The goal of the five-hour hearing with Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg, and Sundar Pichai was for Congress to learn what each platform was doing to handle misinformation and extremist politics.
Democratic lawmakers wanted these leaders to acknowledge the role their platforms played in spreading disinformation about topics such as Covid-19 and climate change, as well as helping to organize the violence at the US Capitol on January 6.
In reference to this issue, Rep. Anna Eshoo of California remarked on Twitter, “These companies are not doing enough to protect their users and our democracy. They must be held accountable.”
And as reported by the Washington Post in their extensive coverage of the hearings, Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania said, “the power of this technology is awesome and terrifying, and each of you has failed to protect your users and the world from the worst consequences of your creations.”
Unfortunately, very little useful information or accountability came from the CEOs at the hearings. As reported by Engadget, during the hearing, all three men largely dodged questions, and Zuckerberg and Pichai refused to accept any responsibility for the attack on Congress on January 6th (Dorsey, to his credit, did agree that Twitter was partly responsible.)
One of the reasons for the hearing is that President Biden and many members of Congress want to put limitations on social media and other big tech companies. Actions could include pursuing antitrust proceedings or revoking Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects companies by not holding them liable for the content of their users.
As Electronic Frontier Foundation notes, Section 230 is “one of the most valuable tools for protecting freedom of expression and innovation on the Internet”. So while lawmakers look for ways to rein in big tech, this action would have immediate consequences for everyone who uses the Internet.
Nonpartisan advocacy group Fight for the Future opposes the repeal or gutting of Section 230, a position supported by their coalition of more than 70 racial justice, civil liberties, LGBTQ+, and human rights groups. In advance of the Congressional hearing, Evan Greer of FFTF argued that gutting Section 230 would actually help large companies at the expense of smaller ones. She said that a better course of action would be for Congress to take “steps to address the harms of Big Tech, like passing strong Federal data privacy legislation, enforcing antitrust laws, and targeting harmful business practices like microtargeting and nontransparent algorithmic manipulation.”
This is a story that will continue to develop over the next several months, and we’ll keep you posted as new developments warrant.
In other news
- Who knew working from home came with such risks? US Strategic Command, an agency that oversees the United States nuclear arsenal, tweeted a cryptic message on Sunday. The message read: “;l;;gmlxzssaw”.
According to the Daily Dot, which broke the story, “Twitter users began joking that the agency had inadvertently sent out a nuclear launch code.” Others worried that the agency’s account had been hacked. And members of QAnon even claimed the message had relevance in their convoluted conspiracy theories.
When no explanation was forthcoming, the Daily Dot filed a Freedom of Information Act request with USSTRATCOM to find out the meaning behind the tweet. According to the official response, “Absolutely nothing nefarious occurred, i.e., no hacking of our Twitter account.” The note added, “The post was discovered and notice to delete it occurred telephonically.”
And what does all of this mean? As it turns out, the agency’s Twitter manager walked away from his computer and during his absence, his toddler managed to send out a tweet.
- Squarespace shortcircuit. On Tuesday, the site builder app Squarespace briefly lost access to its homepage. Shortly after 12 pm CST, visitors to the homepage saw a splash page with the message “Site Deleted,” along with owner login instructions to fix your expired account. The Squarespace support team posted a message on Twitter stating engineers were looking into “some connectivity issues,” but many across Twitter and Reddit were curious to know if Squarespace simply forgot to pay its own bill. With annual plans that cost up to $480, maybe their card was simply declined? In addition to the strange homepage message, some users reported the inability to upload graphics or save changes to pages.
- The rise of the hybrid workplace. Wondering how those who have access to the best remote working technology feel about returning to the office post-pandemic? Unsurprisingly, there have been some dramatic shifts in workplace expectations. It turns out that 95% of workers feel uncomfortable returning to the office. Many people would prefer a kind of hybrid arrangement that reduces the number of bodies in the office at any one time. According to Cisco’s Global Workforce Survey published this week, the survey of around 1600 company employees from all ranks around the globe indicated 97% of respondents wanted workplaces to be safer and 58% said they expected to work at least 8 days a month at home in 2021. Undeterred by frequent frustrations with video meetings, expressed by 98% of participants, 94% of employees believed their experience of home-working is improved with technology and would like working from home to continue.
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