'You're not bystanders': Lawmaker spars with Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai as the CEOs evade questions about how Facebook and Google profit off misinformation

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'You're not bystanders': Lawmaker spars with Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai as the CEOs evade questions about how Facebook and Google profit off misinformation
Energy and Commerce Committee/YouTube
  • Rep. Frank Pallone pressed Google and Facebook's CEOs on how algorithms aid misinformation.
  • The heated exchange occurred during Thursday's congressional hearing about misinformation.
  • Pallone said the companies are "not bystanders" and that their decisions have "real-world consequences."

Democratic congressman Frank Pallone from New Jersey sparred with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai during a misinformation hearing on Thursday.

Pallone confronted the executives over what he said is their intent to put their company's bottom line before all else, namely profiting off of algorithms that can elevate sensationalistic content by design. The congressman asked multiple questions that he demanded the CEOs answer with either a yes or a no. He asked Pichai if YouTube's recommendation algorithm is designed to keep users on its platform.

Pichai began to answer that that isn't the sole goal when Pallone cut him off with, "so the answer is yes" and said that as a result, the company continues to amplify extremist and dangerous content.

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"What happens online doesn't stay online - it has real-world consequences," Pallone said during the virtual hearing. "That's why Congress has to act because you're not bystanders, you're encouraging this stuff."

Thursday's hearing was scheduled to discuss the role that Google, Facebook, and Twitter's platforms play in the spread of false information online. Misinformation pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, racism, the 2020 presidential election, and the January 6 US Capitol siege took center stage in the hearing.

The pro-Trump rioters that stormed the federal building were supporters of the "Stop the Steal" campaign, which purported that the election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. The insurrectionists were found to have organized on websites like Facebook in the weeks leading up to the siege.

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Experts have said that Facebook and Twitter are "indirectly involved" in the January riot because of their hands-off approach to how they moderate content.

Internet platforms have faced heated pressure from the public to police misinformation online in the past year. They've taken steps to crack down on misleading content, including that posted by Trump. Twitter, for example, began fact-checking Trump's posts in which he baselessly claimed mail-in voting would result in a fraudulent election.

The move fueled the belief held by some conservatives that tech platforms discriminate against right-wing content. Regulation of the tech industry has, as a result, grown increasingly politicized.

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