Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey will answer questions from members of Congress on Wednesday afternoon regarding his company’s transparency and accountability.
This will be Dorsey’s second hearing Wednesday. Earlier in the day, Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee about foreign influence and the use of social media platforms.
According to a background memo posted to the committee’s website, House members are expected to question Dorsey for his company’s decisions surrounding alleged censorship of political viewpoints:
Twitter has made several changes to its platform rules and regulations in the past two years. In December 2017, Twitter announced new rules to “reduce hateful conduct and abusive behavior.” The company reported in January 2018 that since June 2017, they removed “more than 220,000 applications in violations of our rules, collectively responsible for more than 2.2 billion low-quality Tweets.”
On July 25, 2018, “Vice News” reported that Twitter was limiting the visibility of certain public figures by preventing their profiles from appearing in the site’s auto-populated drop-down search bar results. The highest profile individuals impacted were associated with one political party, therefore, allegations were made that, whether intentionally or as the result of unintentional algorithmic bias, the incident reflected a willingness to limit exposure of to censor disfavored viewpoints and political ideas. Twitter responded to the controversy by stating that the search auto-population issue was not confined to members of only one political party; that the issue had to do with how other users interacted with the accounts in question, rather than the account holders themselves; and that the company had made changes to its search algorithm in an attempt to correct the issue.
This is not the first incident where issues have been raised. For example, during the 2016 Presidential campaign primaries, the company was accused of suspending a politically focused account and de-emphasizing popular hashtags which criticized the campaign of a major party candidate. The company responded to the allegations by stating that the suspension of the account in question was a mistake. In October 2017, Twitter barred the campaign video of a member of this Committee from its ad platform, deeming it “inflammatory” and “likely to evoke a strong negative reaction,” though this decision was later reversed. And as recently as August, the company admitted it had “made an error” after suspending the Twitter account of an activist who had parodied the tweets of a New York Times editorial board member.
Twitter’s live video streaming product, Periscope, is similar to offerings by competitors such as Facebook Live that have gained popularity while also disrupting the traditional video marketplace. The offering has become a tool for everyone from journalists reporting on breaking news, to parents sharing kids’ sporting events with other family members, to emergency services personnel alerting of active fire scenes and traffic incidents, but it also enables the distribution of problematic content with fewer opportunities for timely moderation. Reports of predatory conduct on this platform have raised concerns” (emphasis added).
The hearing is set to begin at 1:30 p.m. Eastern.