WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Big tech companies were on Capitol Hill Tuesday to answer questions from members of Congress who want to get to the bottom of how algorithms work and how to stop the spread of misinformation.
Social media giants Facebook, Twitter and YouTube faced questions from senators about how the algorithms they use could be dividing the country. Social media algorithms can impact what users see, read and think.
“A simple search for something like ‘coronavirus origin’ or ‘mail-in ballot’ can lead people down a rabbit hole of medical misinformation or political disinformation,” Harvard University Research Director Dr. Joan Donovan said.
Dr. Donovan compared misinformation to second-hand smoke and said social media amplifies it.
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa argued that the company’s algorithms silence conservative viewpoints.
“I constantly hear from Iowans about their concerns with control that big tech has over the discourse in this country as well as the biases that these platforms have against conservative voices in middle America,” Grassley said Tuesday.
Content Policy Vice President Monika Bickert with Facebook said the social platform’s goal is to prevent the spread of misinformation – regardless of the source.
“I do believe that we enforce our policies without regard to political affiliation,” Bickert said.
While much of the questioning focused on the impact of misinformation, some senators are concerned about the way big tech companies hurt their competitors.
Sen. Jon Ossoff said one company shouldn’t have so much influence.
“Does Facebook anticipate that it will embark on further acquisitions of competitor services?” the Georgia Democrat asked.
“Senator, acquisitions is really not my area at all – I am focused on content,” Bickert told him. “I can tell you though – from where I sit, from my perspective, it is a highly-competitive space.”
Democrats are preparing a series of antitrust bills to tackle algorithms and dominance of tech companies.