During a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) took Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to task over bias in Twitter’s “suggested follows” feature.
During a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Republican Representative Jeff Duncan (R-SC) held Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to account over bias in Twitter’s “suggested follows” feature. Representative Duncan explained that when one of his staffers opened a brand new account with Twitter, Twitter suggested the brand new account follow leftist accounts without exception.
“This is a pro-life conservative congressional staffer on a computer who’s search history definitely doesn’t lean left,” said Rep. Duncan in his statement. “All they entered was an email address and a 202 area code phone number, yet here’s who Twitter suggested they follow… Nancy Pelosi, Kamala Harris, John Dingle, Chuck Schumer, John Kerry, Ben Rhodes, David Axelrod, Kirsten Gillibrand, Jim Acosta, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Paul Krugman, Madeline Albright, Claire McCaskill, Chuck Todd and Jon Lovett.”
Rep. Duncan continued, “All left-leaning political types, that’s all she got as suggested for you to follow. Forget the fact that there aren’t any republicans or conservatives on that list — no singers? No actors? No athletes? No celebrities? She’s a twenty-something female staffer, didn’t even get Taylor Swift, Chris Pratt, Cristiano Ronaldo or Kim Kardashian. All she got was the suggestions that I had on the screen.”
Rep. Duncan asked Dorsey to explain how a young female staffer who only entered an email and a phone number received nothing but suggestions for liberal politicians, Dorsey replied: “We simply don’t have enough information, in that case, to build up a more informed suggestion for her, so the 202 number is all we have therefore…” Rep. Duncan then cut off Dorsey and stated that he understood that Twitter didn’t have much information on the staffer but the fact that huge accounts such as Taylor Swift and Kim Kardashian were not suggested yet liberal politicians accounts with lower followings were.
Dorsey explained: “I think it [the Twitter system] was just looking at the 202 [area code] as a DC number and then taking DC-based accounts and the most followed probably or most engaged with accounts in the 202 area code.” Rep. Duncan accepted this but asked where a number of extremely high profile DC-based Twitter accounts were in she suggested follows list, such as athletes from the Washington Capitals.
Rep. Duncan stated: “There are no athletes, there are no singers, there are no celebrities, there were only suggested political figures of a very liberal persuasion that were suggested for her [the staffer] to follow. Nobody else. That shows bias sir.”
Dorsey quietly replied: “Yeah, well we do have a lot more work to do in terms of our on-boarding and obviously you’re pointing out some weaknesses in our signals that we use to craft those selections. So if she were to start following particular accounts or engaging with particular tweets that model would completely change based on that, we just don’t have enough information, it sounds like we are not being exhaustive enough with the one piece of information we have which is the area code.”
Rep. Duncan asked that if after the hearing someone in their twenties with a 202 area code and a limited amount of other information sets up a Twitter account, is Twitter going to suggest other accounts to follow than the liberal accounts that Duncan had listed, to which Dorsey replied: “That is not a good outcome for us.”
Watch the full livestream of the event here.