Congressional Panel On Internet And Disinformation... Includes Many Who Spread Disinformation Online

from the because-of-course dept

We've pointed out a few times how silly all these Congressional panels on content moderation are, but the one happening today is particularly silly. One of the problems, of course, is that while everyone seems to be mad about Section 230, they seem to be mad about it for opposite reasons, with Republicans wanting the companies to moderate less, and Democrats wanting the companies to moderate more. That's only one of many reasons why today's hearing, like those in the past, are so pointless. They tend to bog down in silly "but what about this particular moderation decision" which will then be presented in a misleading or out of context fashion, allowing the elected official to grandstand about how they "held big tech's feet to the fire" or some such nonsense.

However, Cat Zakrzewski, over at the Washington Post has highlighted yet another reason why this particular "investigation" into disinformation online is so disingenuous: a bunch of the Republicans on the panel, exploring how these sites deal with mis- and disinformation -- are guilty of spreading disinformation themselves online.

A Washington Post analysis found that seven Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee who are scheduled to grill the chief executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter about election misinformation on Thursday sent tweets that advanced baseless narratives of election fraud, or otherwise supported former president Donald Trump’s efforts to challenge the results of the presidential election. They were among 15 of the 26 Republican members of the committee who voted to overturn President Biden’s election victory.

Three Republican members of the committee, Reps. Markwayne Mullin (Okla.), Billy Long (Mo.) and Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (Ga.), tweeted or retweeted posts with the phrase “Stop the Steal” in the chaotic aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. Stop the Steal was an online movement that researchers studying disinformation say led to the violence that overtook the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Cool cool.

Actually, this highlights one of the many reasons why we should be concerned about all of these efforts to force these companies into a particular path for dealing with disinformation online. Because once we head down the regulatory route, we're going to reach a point in which the government is, in some form, determining what is okay and what is not okay online. And do we really want elected officials, who themselves were spreading disinformation and even voted to overturn the results of the last Presidential election, to be determining what is acceptable and what is not for social media companies to host?

As the article itself notes, rather than have a serious conversation about disinformation online and what to do about it, this is just going to be yet another culture war. Republicans are going to push demands to have these websites stop removing their own efforts at disinformation, and Democrats are going to push the websites to be more aggressive in removing information (often without concern for the consequences of such demands -- which often lead to the over-suppression of speech).

One thing I think we can be sure of is that Rep. Frank Pallone, who is heading the committee for today's hearing is being laughably naïve if he actually believes this:

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the Democrat who chairs the committee, said any member of Congress using social media to spread falsehoods about election fraud was “wrong,” but he remained optimistic that he could find bipartisan momentum with Republicans who don’t agree with that rhetoric.

“There’s many that came out and said after Jan. 6 that they regretted what happened and they don’t want to be part of it at all,” Pallone said in an interview. “You have to hope that there’s enough members on both sides of the aisle that see the need for some kind of legislative reform here because they don’t want social media to allow extremism and disinformation to spread in the real world and encourage that.”

Uh huh. The problem is that those who spread disinformation online don't think of it as disinformation. And they see any attempt to cut back on their ability to spread it to be (wrongly) "censorship." Just the fact that the two sides can't even agree on what is, and what is not, disinformation should give pause to anyone seeking "some kind of legislative reform" here. While the Democrats may be in power now, that may not last very long, and they should recognize that if it's the Republicans who get to define what is and what is not "disinformation" it may look very, very different than what the Democrats think.

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Filed Under: congressional hearings, content moderation, disinformation, donald trump, election disinformation, house energy and commerce committee, republicans, section 230, stop the steal
Companies: facebook, google, twitter


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2021 @ 10:01am

    Republicans wanting the companies to moderate less, and Democrats wanting the companies to moderate more.

    And they are both arguing over how much disinformation the republican can spread.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    jimbo, 25 Mar 2021 @ 10:14am

    Who is to Control

    I just watched MSNBC interview with Rep Peter Welch. The suggestion made was to replace platform decisions with decisions by "government officials". Let's see.... Would you like to have government officials beholden to a president like Donald Trump be making decisions about which online commentary should be suppressed???? I wouldn't. I also wouldn't want Democrat appointed officials making those decisions. I doubt such rules would be constitutional, but will take big bucks to get a case to the Supreme Court.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 10:45am

    "Because once we head down the regulatory route, we're going to reach a point in which the government is, in some form, determining what is okay and what is not okay online"

    Once you go down the regulatory route, you start at that point. It's just degree that you want the government to tell you what is and isn't okay on line that gets decided in the details. I suppose and how much lipstick they put on the pig.. They could do something like use private companies as proxies and provide incentives and disincentives so they control speech how the government wants, but it's still going to be a pig underneath

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 10:48am

    I think all of the platforms should take strong steps to stop disinformation.

    I look forward to seeing how many members of Congress end up in timeouts for their lies.
    The media won't hold them to account & allows them to just claim whatever so maybe the platforms should.
    Why shoudl they allow them to keep lying to the american people unchecked?

    I mean its one thing for me to claim Ted Cruz is the Zodiac, its another to for Ted to claim he totes didn't actually flee the state during a crisis to party in Mexico (a country he often takes issue & umbrage at) or that its just like the flu while rushing to be first in line for the vaccine.

    Imagine if they suddenly had to tell the truth or no longer have a platform to spread those lies unchecked.
    Yeah I know its a pipe dream, we'll never have honest politicians but i can dream...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 12:37pm

      Re:

      Having politicians on a panel about misinformation is rather like filling a panel discussion on coop safety with a bunch of foxes and other predators.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2021 @ 4:01pm

        Re: Re:

        Except that you can actually tame foxes and other predators and use them to test coop builds for security. You have no such guarantee with politicians as a lifetime of food and safety for not biting the hand that feeds them is not enough for them.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jamie, 25 Mar 2021 @ 11:22am

    "While the Democrats may be in power now, that may not last very long, and they should recognize that if it's the Republicans who get to define what is and what is not "disinformation" it may look very, very different than what the Democrats think."

    And that reason above is exactly why our government is not supposed to be limiting speech. Sadly, both sides of the debate are actively pushing for the right to limit speech. And both have played the game of threatening private organizations to remove speech they don't like or feel is dangerous/wrong.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2021 @ 12:07pm

    "Because once we head down the regulatory route, we're going to reach a point in which the government is, in some form, determining what is okay and what is not okay online"

    Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 12:35pm

    Oh my sweet summer child...

    “There’s many that came out and said after Jan. 6 that they regretted what happened and they don’t want to be part of it at all,” Pallone said in an interview

    And of those how many voted to acquit Trump the second time around? The question is are they sorry for what happened and want to distance themselves from it because they realize they were wrong and were helping undermine democracy, or because continuing to do so was now not a good look after that little 'insurrection' thing and they wanted to pretend that they had no possible way to know that what they were supporting was wrong?

    When the goals are diametrically opposed, with one side wanting less moderation so more disinformation(and worse) can fester, and the other wanting more moderation so that less 'problematic' content will stay up(and all the collateral damage that will cause) there is no room for compromise, no meeting in the middle other than accepting that the current state of things is better than either goal and the best choice would be to leave things the hell alone.

    Any democrat who thinks that the government should be stepping in and deciding moderation practices should ask themselves if they would have accepted 'anything I don't like is fake news'-Trump having that power and making those decisions, and any republicans who think the same on moderation should be asking themselves if they're happy handing that power to Biden. If you wouldn't trust your enemy with the power you are seeking that's probably a good sign that it's a bad idea and you shouldn't be trying to implement it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Koby (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 12:36pm

    I'll Allow It!

    Of course, when you have a bunch of Blue-Anon Russia-gate conspiracy theorists sending out disinformation every day for three years, it's okay.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      crade (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 12:49pm

      Re: I'll Allow It!

      If it's in your hard earned work you are deciding what to do with and you are okay with it, sure, why not. If you don't like it you can feel free to kick them off the service you poured your own blood sweat and tears into building.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 1:09pm

      At least the Russia/Trump investigations and speculations have actual information and facts backing them up, what with all the actual factual links between Russian officials and Trump associates.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        crade (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 1:43pm

        Re:

        Yeah but denial of those facts don't irk me nearly as much as so called conservatives turning communist and wanting to expropriate everything just because liberals can build things they can't and aren't sharing enough

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Bloof (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 5:02pm

          Re: Re:

          'MOM! The liberals aren't letting me use the N word on their platform! Make them share!'

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 26 Mar 2021 @ 12:26am

            Re: Re: Re:

            Republicans: we need to kill millions of people and destabilise entire nations because we're afraid of communism.

            Also Republicans: We need the government to seize the means of production because we disagree with the private citizens who run them now.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 26 Mar 2021 @ 12:25am

        Re:

        There was absolute proof of collusion between Trump and his associates and the Russians. What was lacking was a clear legal standard for collusion that Mueller felt comfortable taking to a court of law.

        Muppets like Koby seem to think that this lack of a clear legal standard means that the people who conspired to elect an incompetent gameshow host who has a body count on his hands higher than any recent war are innocent of bad behaviour, but it seems some saner heads have prevailed for the moment.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bloof (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 4:47pm

      Re: I'll Allow It!

      How many arrests of Trump campaign officials were there as a result of the Muller investigation? How many arrests have there been over the decades long republican shreiking over election fraud?

      The Russia investigations proved there was russian meddling in the 2016 elections and a whole lot of questionable connections to a whole bunch of questionable people. The republicans on the other hand have produced zero evidence to support any of their claims, their allegations so baseless most of the lawyers representing them refuse to make them in courts because they don't wish to be disbarred. It is disinformation, lies spread by people who want to secure minority rule by any means necessary, people who are only anywhere near power through gerrymandering and america's demented desire to have land count more than people.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 25 Mar 2021 @ 5:47pm

        Re: Re: I'll Allow It!

        There were plenty of arrests from the Republicans crying election fraud - they were just Republicans doing things like storming the capital instead of any evidence presented.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 6:17pm

          Don’t forget about the Republican who was arrested for election fraud over his role in a “fake candidate” scheme that was meant to (and possibly did) swing an election.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 26 Mar 2021 @ 12:28am

            Re:

            I might be mistaken, but I don't think there's a single instance found of a Democratic voter being charged with election fraud. Every example I'm aware of was someone trying to vote for Trump.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 26 Mar 2021 @ 8:39am

              Re: Re:

              "Nobody on the side of the Establishment has been charged with a crime by the Establishment for fraud on behalf of the Establishment candidate."

              Ha ha ha, do you guys ever think before you talk?

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                crade (profile), 26 Mar 2021 @ 9:29am

                Re: Re: Re:

                "Republicans have never been in charge, democrats have always just set them up as puppets including Trump"

                Ha ha ha, do you guys ever think before you talk?

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                PaulT (profile), 27 Mar 2021 @ 3:14am

                Re: Re: Re:

                So, you have concrete examples of proven voter fraud by Democratic voters? Where is it? I have several examples of illegal voting by Trump cultists ready to go if you want to share evidence.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  crade (profile), 31 Mar 2021 @ 6:19am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  Believe was trying to say there is all sorts of evidence, but we haven't seen it because of the huge conspiracy from those in charge covering it all up flawlessly. And republicans have never been in charge. You know cuz of the pres having no power in the U.S. and the deep state alien puppetmasters being democrat who really control everything and whatnot..

                  Sound about right?

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 26 Mar 2021 @ 12:01am

      Re: I'll Allow It!

      [Projects facts not in evidence]

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 26 Mar 2021 @ 12:22am

      Re: I'll Allow It!

      Yes, it's generally OK for people to spread the truth, even if the Mueller investigation that convicted dozens of people stopped short of convicting people of the specific crime of collusion (because Mueller didn't think there was a clear legal standard to convict with).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 26 Mar 2021 @ 3:43am

      Re: I'll Allow It!

      "...a bunch of Blue-Anon Russia-gate conspiracy theorists sending out disinformation..."

      You know the difference between reasonable suspicion based on factual evidence and factually debunked narrative based on only wishful thinking?

      I think you do. I also think you don't give a flying fuck that there isn't just credible evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia - like the receipts on Trump's 400 million dollar loan signed by the damned russian state bank or the actual acknowledgment by russian troll farms that they were working to get Trump into office...

      Not as long as you can holler "Lügenpresse" to fit the narrative you and your good buddies in brown have been peddling around here.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Eddie manz, 25 Mar 2021 @ 1:43pm

    Call my congressman: No dice

    Look I called my Congressman. I might as well called my mother. Said section 230 was a priority and section 230 only protects big tech. Unless we website owners do something drastic. (Internet blackout with petition.). The internet is screwed

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 2:23pm

    Lets

    Let the CIA do all the Spreading.
    They know how to do it, PROPERLY.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 25 Mar 2021 @ 5:00pm

    Well yeah, these things are required to have republicans involved and dishonesty is pretty much a requirement for party membership at this point. If you're not willing to tell people that water isn't wet and people who think it is are communists in order to get all water privatised to benefit your donors, then you'll never get elected on the GOP ticket.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Mar 2021 @ 8:49am

    Define disinformation

    Masnick, et al, what is 'disinformation'?

    Because I have yet to see a definition of 'disinformation' that isn't just 'contradicting Big Brother'.

    Despite how much you try to worm and wiggle and twist and turn the words, I don't believe you can define it in such a way that doesn't simply circle back around to just being 'whatever disagrees with CNN'.

    Please try. If you can , I'll eat crow. But I don't think you can.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 26 Mar 2021 @ 1:23pm

      Re: Define disinformation

      Presenting information that is false, and/or information that might technically be true but is presented in a manner meant to mislead the listener to coming to a false conclusion would be the first definition that comes to mind, and neither of those have anything to do with 'contradicting Big Brother' or depend at all on what CNN says.

      So, do you need a fork for that crow or do you have you own already?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 27 Mar 2021 @ 2:57am

      Re: Define disinformation

      "Masnick, et al, what is 'disinformation'?"

      A word with a very clearly defined dictionary definition: "false information which is intended to mislead"

      That you choose to believe that disinformation over and above real facts is your problem.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Oh, noes! A 'double mutant' Covid!, 26 Mar 2021 @ 9:58am

    Well, at least this time you show SOME objectivity.

    Way down at the end by admitting are irreconcilable differences.

    You lead with cheap "partisan" baloney merely echoing the utterly Establishment WaPo that charges of election fraud are false. Of course that relies on the credibility of WaPo, which with about half the country is ZERO. -- The charge of election fraud is well based on such items as the illegal changing of acceptable balloting by non-legislators, and the illegal stopping of counts and when resumed nearly all the "ballots" were for Biden, statistically impossible. (Just ask math whiz Ayyadurai!) The evidence didn't get heard because of unprecedented refusal by courts: the evidence was NOT adjudicated. You're simply pleased that a successful election steal is valid because "your" side "won". That area is still being discovered, by the way.

    It ain't over just because judges are corrupt and you're willfully blind. But "your" side now has to make the trains run on time. And like you, all your side are incompetent academics. The corporate power grab by "deplatforming" Trump alarmed Angela Merkel and other Europeans, besides many in US. The "Democrats" in particular are not going to be controlled by a bunch of boy billionaires so S230 will be changed. The intentional destruction from open borders is making even "Democrats" anxious. They aren't ALL impractical and crazy too. Biden's health will worsen and Harris will be in "office", but though she's even more of a tool, the agenda will likely collapse, combination of inept hacks pushing it and the public seeing what's really happening. -- As with the "epidemic". Real or not, it isn't and can't be managed simply by "platforms" prohibiting all dissent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Mar 2021 @ 11:18am

      Re:

      The evidence didn't get heard because of unprecedented refusal by courts: the evidence was NOT adjudicated. You're simply pleased that a successful election steal is valid because "your" side "won". That area is still being discovered, by the way.

      Not heard? When the judges asked for evidence all they got where crickets. This is all in the public record. The only refusal here is your refusal to acknowledge factual reality.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 26 Mar 2021 @ 8:00pm

      Re: Well, at least this time you show SOME objectivity.

      [projects facts not in evidence]

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 27 Mar 2021 @ 12:12am

      You lead with cheap "partisan" baloney merely echoing the utterly Establishment WaPo that charges of election fraud are false.

      As it pertains to the 2020 presidential election? Yes, those charges are false. Hell, Georgia recounted its vote tallies three separate times and found no fraud.

      the illegal changing of acceptable balloting by non-legislators

      Several Republican-controlled states passed measures to loosen vote-by-mail restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Courts upheld those measures. That the Republicans regretted their decision doesn’t make it illegal.

      the illegal stopping of counts and when resumed nearly all the "ballots" were for Biden, statistically impossible

      1. What “illegal stopping of counts”?

      2. Everyone with a well-functioning brain assumed vote-by-mail would favor Biden because Democratic/liberal/progressive voters were taking that whole pandemic thing seriously and didn’t want to risk dying for the sake of voting.

      The evidence didn't get heard because of unprecedented refusal by courts: the evidence was NOT adjudicated.

      The “evidence” didn’t get heard because the legal team for Old 45 didn’t present any credible evidence to the courts. At every opportunity to present such evidence, his lawyers balked, which led to losses in five dozen legal cases.

      You're simply pleased that a successful election steal is valid because "your" side "won".

      I have seen no credible indication that the most-watched election in U.S. history was “rigged”, “stolen”, or whatever other term you might want to use along those lines. But hey, if you want to talk about a stolen election, go ask Stacey Abrams about what happened in Georgia in 2018.

      That area is still being discovered, by the way.

      Except it’s not. All the suits presented by the Trump legal team have been adjudicated in some form or another. No state- or federal-level investigations have produced any credible indication of widescale voter fraud in even one state, never mind four or more. Nobody with any credible evidence (or any credibility of their own) has come forward to prove the 2020 presidential election was anything but a free and fair election.

      When Donald Trump won in 2016, yes, there was controversy. Of course there was (because fuck the Electoral College). But did you see Democrats going to the same lengths as Republicans to “prove” that election was stolen — or restrict voting rights after Trump was inaugurated in 2017?

      It ain't over just because judges are corrupt

      Several of the judges who shot down the cases presented by Trump’s legal team were Trump appointees. So…yeah…

      all your side are incompetent academics

      As opposed to the bigoted fascists on the “other side”, I suppose? Because hey, Democrats aren’t the ones who’ve been passing laws to restrict the voting rights of American citizens (and the voting rights of people of color specifically) in the wake of the 2020 election.

      The "Democrats" in particular are not going to be controlled by a bunch of boy billionaires so S230 will be changed.

      Keep egging on the repeal of 230. If it happens, I will laugh my ass off when you can no longer comment on this site because you actively, knowingly, and joyfully pursued the “shut down the comments section of Techdirt” endgame.

      The rest of your drivel isn’t even worth commenting on; it reads like the first draft of a Tucker Carlson monologue. (Surprised you didn’t slip a racial slur in there like he probably does.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 27 Mar 2021 @ 3:02am

        Re:

        "Hell, Georgia recounted its vote tallies three separate times and found no fraud."

        In other. areas they have found actual evidence of fraudulent votes - all of them Trump voters.

        "What “illegal stopping of counts”?"

        You know, what the evidence presented to courts proved... Wait, they got kicked out of court 60+ times largely because they presented zero actual evidence. My bad.

        "Everyone with a well-functioning brain assumed vote-by-mail would favor Biden because Democratic/liberal/progressive voters were taking that whole pandemic thing seriously and didn’t want to risk dying for the sake of voting."

        Which is exactly why they're whining about the count being unfair - people without brains don't understand that the Trump administration did everything they could to force states to delay counting mail-in ballots until after the in-person votes were counted, thus creating the illusion that Biden votes were somehow "found" after Trump was winning.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 27 Mar 2021 @ 3:07am

      Re: Well, at least this time you show SOME objectivity.

      "The evidence didn't get heard because"

      ...no court has had any evidence presented to it.

      "You're simply pleased that a successful election steal is valid because "your" side "won""

      Not at all. If Biden won by 8 million popular votes because of a massive fraud scheme, democracy depends on the evidence being presented. Why has it not been presented? Screw the courts, why is the evidence not made public by the people claiming to have it?

      Instead of trying to violently overthrow democracy and beating cops to death with flags, why have you not made your evidence public?

      "Real or not, it isn't and can't be managed simply by "platforms" prohibiting all dissent."

      Your orange god is currently setting up his own platform to fleece the rubes, and your Russian-backed platforms like Parler provide all the room you need to present your evidence to the world. Where is it?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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