Tech CEOs are appearing (remotely) before congress again, and the question is still whether the event will be more spectacle or substance.
The House Energy & Commerce Committee announced Thursday that it is hauling in Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai for testimony on March 25. The topic will be misinformation and disinformation on online platforms.
“For far too long, big tech has failed to acknowledge the role [it’s] played in fomenting and elevating blatantly false information to its online audiences,” the committee chairs said in a statement. “Industry self-regulation has failed. We must begin the work of changing incentives driving social media companies to allow and even promote misinformation and disinformation.”
The chairs noted that misinformation categories include COVID-19 and election fraud, and gestured to the impact the spread of falsehoods and doubt has had in the real world.
Investigation and accountability in these areas are clearly warranted. However, congressional hearings featuring tech CEOs in the past have led to much performative grilling and repeated talking points by members of Congress, and not always a lot of action.
This time, the environment is charged, and a lot hangs in the balance. The memory of the Capitol insurrection — fueled by claims of election fraud circulating online, and Trump’s own tweets — is fresh. Both parties are also eyeing the future of Section 230, which protects social media companies from being liable for what people say on their platforms, and also grants the ability to moderate content. The future of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube depends on the future of Section 230. And the fate of Section 230, or other new legislation that governs internet speech, may depend on what Zuckerberg, Dorsey, and Pichai have to say for themselves.
Then again, maybe it’ll just be all one big show resulting mostly in some new Mark Zuckerberg memes.