What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Twitter and Facebook face lawmaker concerns over policing their platforms

Twitter and Facebook, the world's largest social media giants, told the senators investigating Russia's tactics during the U.S. elections that they had improved their defenses, but some still lawmakers believe the companies need regulation. Meanwhile, the question of whether social media censors conservatives dominated a House hearing. Nick Schifrin reports.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now we go back to Capitol Hill.

    Top leaders of social media giants Facebook and Twitter appeared before Senate and House committees today.

    As Nick Schifrin reports, they appeared amid ongoing concerns over their ability to police their platforms and questions of whether they should be regulated.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In front of the Senate committee investigating Russia's offensive tactics during U.S. elections, the world's largest social media companies said they had improved their defenses.

  • Sheryl Sandberg:

    When content violates our policies, we will take it down. And when our opponents use new techniques, we will share them, so we can strengthen our collective efforts.

  • Jack Dorsey:

    We're identifying and challenging eight to 10 million suspicious accounts every week, and we're thwarting over a half-million accounts from logging into Twitter every single day.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg lead Internet giants trying to act proactively to remove fake content. Recently, Facebook removed 652 pages, groups and accounts posing as news organizations, but really fronts for Iran.

    They peddled fake photos of Michelle Obama, fake tweets about Bernie Sanders and fake movie posters, discovered thanks to collaboration with law enforcement and private security companies.

  • Sheryl Sandberg:

    In our mind, that's the system working. Our opponents are very well-funded. They are very organized. And we are going to get those tips from law enforcement, from each other, from private firms. And the faster we can collaborate, the faster we share those tips with each other, the more — the stronger our collective defenses will be.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But Twitter was criticized for not sharing more information with victims of Russian campaigns aimed at lawmakers critical of Russia, including Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins.

  • Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine:

    I learned, not from Twitter, but from Clemson University, that I was one of those targeted leaders, and that there were 279 Russia-generated tweets that targeted me. It seems to me that, once you determine that, you should notify the people who are the targets.

  • Jack Dorsey:

    I agree. It's unacceptable. And we recognize we need to communicate more directly where people are on our service. And we also recognize that we're not going to be able to catch everything alone. So we need to develop better partnerships in order to do that.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Independent analysts say the companies are working better together. But some lawmakers believe that's not enough and the companies needs to be regulated.

    Virginia Democrat Senator Mark Warner.

  • Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.:

    But the size and reach of your platforms demand that we, as policy-makers, do our job to assure proper oversight, transparency and protection for American users and our democratic institutions.

    The era of the Wild West in social media is coming to an end.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    On the issue of regulation, Sandberg hedged.

  • Sheryl Sandberg:

    We don't think it's a question of whether regulation. We think it's a question of the right regulation that supports users, is transparent, and doesn't squash innovation. And we're happy to work with you on the proposal.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Lawmakers asked about fake accounts known as bots that Russia and other online actors use to amplify fake ideas. Dorsey said Twitter was open to labeling those bots, but it wasn't easy.

    Meanwhile, many senators focused on who wasn't there in the empty chair left for Google after it declined to send either its president or CEO.

  • Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.:

    Perhaps Google didn't send a senior executive today because they have recently taken actions, such as terminating cooperation they had with the American military on programs like artificial intelligence.

  • Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.:

    I would have thought that leadership at Google would have wanted to demonstrate how seriously it takes these challenges.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But the hearing was practically sedate compared to what happened outside.

  • Alex Jones:

    I'm here to discuss the reality that there is an attempted purge of the First Amendment taking place in this country.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Alex Jones is a widely watched media personality and provocateur who specializes in conspiracy theories.

  • Alex Jones:

    Sandy Hook is a synthetic, completely fake, with actors in my view, manufactured.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    He once claimed the Sandy Hook school shooting was a government hoax to increase gun control laws.

    In July, Facebook, Apple and Google's YouTube banned Jones.

  • Alex Jones:

    It's happening to everybody now who's a libertarian or a conservative. The dominoes are falling. The First Amendment is being destroyed.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    A few minutes later, Jones interrupted an interview by Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio.

  • Alex Jones:

    Marco Rubio is a snake.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.:

    This is a dumb-ass. All right, man. Who are you?

  • Alex Jones:

    Yes, sure.

  • Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.:

    Who is this guy? I swear to God I don't know who you are, man.

  • Alex Jones:

    Yes, you better hope you can de-platform me, tens of millions of views.

  • Question:

    Infowars. Infowars.

  • Alex Jones:

    Bigger than Rush Limbaugh.

    He knows who Infowars is. Playing this joke over here. That's why — the de-platforming didn't work.

  • Question:

    But here's the question. Here's the question.

  • Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.:

    Don't touch me again, man. I'm asking you not to touch me.

  • Alex Jones:

    Well, sure. I just patted you nicely.

  • Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.:

    I know, but I don't want to be touched. I don't know who you are. I don't know who you are.

  • Alex Jones:

    You want me to get arrested.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.:

    You're not going to get arrested, man. You're not going to get arrested. I will take care of it myself.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The issue of whether social media censors conservatives dominated an afternoon House hearing and questions by Texas Republican Joe Barton.

  • Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas:

    Do you discriminate more on philosophy, like anti-conservative vs. pro-liberal?

  • Jack Dorsey:

    No. Our policies and our algorithms don't take into consideration any affiliation, philosophy or viewpoint.

  • Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas:

    That's hard to stomach. I'm not…

  • Jack Dorsey:

    I believe that we have found impartial outcomes. And those are what we intend to fix and continue to measure.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Dorsey admitted Twitter unfairly filtered 600,000 accounts, including Democrat and Republican lawmakers.

  • Louisiana Representative Steve Scalise:

  • Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La.:

    Our colleague Marsha Blackburn, when she announced her campaign for the Senate, Twitter quickly banned her announcement advertisement because it had a pro-life message.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Dorsey admitted that decision was a mistake. But New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone dismissed the entire line of questioning.

  • Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J.:

    President Trump and many Republicans have peddled conspiracy theories about Twitter and other social media platforms to whip up their base and fund-raise. I fear the Republicans are using this hearing for those purposes.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But, today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions doubled down, and says he will gather state attorneys general to discuss whether social media companies stifle conservatives.

    The debate isn't over, at a time when social media companies are on the front line protecting democracy. As one senator put it today, what these companies decide has the capacity to win wars without firing a shot.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest