Both Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, and Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, are testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
But in the first hours of testimony, it was hard to detect much “intelligence” in either the question or the answers.
Take, for example, the crucial question of who sets and enforces policies that ban users for alleged manipulation. This question is critical because it can inform the public about whether adequate measures are being taken to protect social networks from foreign political interference and about whether Silicon Valley’s liberal political biases are leading to blacklisting and shadowbans. What qualifications do they have? What precautions are taken to ensure they represent a broad portion of the political spectrum?
Unfortunately, the early answers to these questions were about as informative as being told that your dog won’t hunt because the dog doesn’t hunt.
If social media is a mirror on society, then perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the answers to questions about social media simply mirror the questions.
Take this exchange:
Senator James Risch: In each of your companies, who sets the standards or the description of what a coordinated manipulation or inauthentic behavior is? What entity do you have in each of your companies that make these determinations? Ms. Sandberg, please, start with you.
Sheryl Sandberg: Our policy team is setting those and our security team is finding them. ‘Coordinated inauthentic behavior’ means behavior on our site that is inauthentic, so people are not representing themselves to be who they are. And ‘coordinated’ means they are coordinating it. They can be coordinating with authentic actors and coordinating with inauthentic actors. Both are unacceptable.
Senator James Risch: When the team is sitting in their meeting, is there generally unanimity amongst them on something, a fact situation that comes in front of them. Is this something that is easy to recognize? Are people unanimous about it or do you wind up with debates as to whether or not certain platforms should be shut down?
Sheryl Sandberg: I think on a lot of the issues we face, like hate speech, there is broad debate. When it comes to what is an inauthentic actor, which is a fake account posing as someone, they are hard to find but once we find them, we know who they are.
So what have we learned?
The policies are being set by the policy team. And the enforcement of those policies is set by the security team. An inauthentic behavior is produced by someone who is behaving inauthentically. Coordinated behavior is behavior that is coordinated.
They’re hard to find but “we know ’em when we spot ’em.”
Glad to have that all cleared up.