Why Did Not A Single Representative Want To Discuss Jack Dorsey's Plans For Dealing With Disinformation?
from the they-don't-care-about-actual-solutions dept
As I’m sure most people are aware, last week, the House Energy & Commerce Committee held yet another hearing on “big tech” and its content moderation practices. This one was ostensibly on “disinformation,” and had Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai, and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey as the panelists. It went on for five and a half hours which appears to be the norm for these things. Last week, I did write about both Zuckerberg and Pichai’s released opening remarks, in which both focused on various efforts they had made to combat disinfo. Of course, the big difference between the two was that Zuckerberg then suggested 230 should be reformed, while Pichai said it was worth defending.
If you actually want to watch all five and a half hours of this nonsense, you can do so here:
As per usual — and as was totally expected — you got a lot more of the same. You had very angry looking Representatives practically screaming about awful stuff online. You had Democrats complaining about the platforms failing to take down info they disliked, while just as equally angry Republicans complained about the platforms taking down content they liked (often this was the same, or related, content). Amusingly, often just after saying that websites took down content they shouldn’t have (bias!), the very same Representatives would whine “but how dare you not take down this other content.” It was the usual mess of “why don’t you moderate exactly the way I want you to moderate,” which is always a silly, pointless activity. There was also a lot of “think of the children!” moral panic.
However, Jack Dorsey’s testimony was somewhat different than Zuckerberg’s and Pichai’s. While it also talks somewhat about how Twitter has dealt with disinformation, his testimony actually went significantly further in noting real, fundamental changes that Twitter is exploring that go way beyond the way most people think about this debate. Rather than focusing on the power that Twitter has to decide how, who, and what to moderate, Dorsey’s testimony talked about various ways in which they are seeking to give more control to end users themselves and empower those end users, rather than leaving Twitter as the final arbiter. He talked about “algorithmic choice” so that rather than having Twitter controlling everything, different users could opt-in to different algorithmic options, and different providers could create their own algorithmic options. And he mentioned the Bluesky project, and potentially moving Twitter to a protocol-based system, rather than one that Twitter fully controls.
Twitter is also funding Bluesky, an independent team of open source architects, engineers, and designers, to develop open and decentralized standards for social media. This team has already created an initial review of the ecosystem around protocols for social media to aid this effort. Bluesky will eventually allow Twitter and other companies to contribute to and access open recommendation algorithms that promote healthy conversation and ultimately provide individuals greater choice. These standards will support innovation, making it easier for startups to address issues like abuse and hate speech at a lower cost. Since these standards will be open and transparent, our hope is that they will contribute to greater trust on the part of the individuals who use our service. This effort is emergent, complex, and unprecedented, and therefore it will take time. However, we are excited by its potential and will continue to provide the necessary exploratory resources to push this project forward.
All of these were showing that Dorsey and Twitter are thinking about actual ways to deal with many of the complains that our elected officials insist are the fault of social media — including the fact that no two politicians seem to agree one what is the “proper” level of moderation. By moving to something like protocols and algorithmic choice, you could allow different individuals, groups, organizations and others to set their own standards and rules.
And, yes, I’m somewhat biased here, because I have suggested this approach (as have many others). That doesn’t mean I’m convinced it will absolutely work, but I do think it’s worth experimenting with.
And what I had hoped was that perhaps, if Congress were actually interested in solving the perceived problems they declared throughout the hearing, then they would perhaps explore these initiatives, and ask Jack to explain how they might impact questions around disinformation or harm or “censorship” or “think of the children.” Because there are lots of interesting discussions to be had over whether or not this approach will help deal with many of those issues.
But as far as I can tell not one single elected official ever asked Jack about any of this. Not one. Now, I will admit that I missed some of the hearing to take a few meetings, but I asked around and others I know who watched the entire thing through could not recall it coming up beyond Jack mentioning it a few times during the hearing.
What I did hear a lot of, however, was members of the House insisting, angrily (always angrily), that none of the CEOs presenting were willing to “offer solutions” and that’s why “Congress must and will act!”
All it did was drive home the key idea that this was not a serious hearing in which Congress hoped to learn something. This was yet another grandstanding dog and pony show where Congressional members got to get their clips and headlines they can put on the very same social media platforms they insist are destroying America. But when they demanded to hear “solutions” to the supposed problems they raised, and when one of the CEOs on the panel put forth some ideas on better ways to approach this… every single one of those elected officials ignored it. Entirely. Over five and a half hours, and not one asked him to explain what he meant, or to explore how it might help.
This is not Congress trying to fix the “problems” of social media. This is Congress wanting to grandstand on social media while pretending to do real work.