U.K. Lawmakers Jet to Washington to Take on Tech Executives
published Feb 8, 2018 8:50:52 AM, by Adam Satariano and Ben Brody
U.K. lawmakers traveled to Washington for an unusual hearing to press executives from Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Twitter Inc. to do more to keep junk news and misinformation from spreading online.
The House of Commons hearing held Thursday at George Washington University is a sign of the global pressure internet companies are facing to get more control of their free-wheeling platforms. The panel is also probing whether Russian-backed groups used social media to influence the U.K. vote to leave the European Union in 2016.
The companies sent lower-level executives to repeat pledges made over the past year in wake of the U.S. presidential election to do more to promote higher-quality content, including hiring more moderators, adjusting algorithms to diminish the rank of certain websites, and funding fact-checking organizations.
“We feel an extraordinary sense of responsibility,” Richard Gingras, Google’s vice president of news, said at the hearing. “The loyalty of our users is based on their continued trust.”
Yet the companies have also said there’s only so much they can do without censoring the open nature of their services that allow people to post and share material with little restriction.
That’s been an unsatisfactory answer for many policymakers looking for a more aggressive response. Damian Collins, the chairman of the panel, pressed Google to apply the same technological and financial muscle to stamping out misinformation and extremism as has been committing to building up advertising tools that drive its billions of dollars in sales. “The same tools must be available to take down harmful content,” said Collins.
A representative from YouTube was also quizzed about recent news stories in the Guardian and Wall Street Journal that showed the video site’s algorithms were recommending conspiracy theories and other false information. “We still have work to do and there is progress to be made,” said Juniper Downs, global head of public policy at YouTube.
The U.K. panel came to Washington in search of more information about how the companies operate. After demands for evidence and hearings in the U.K., the committee has already accused Twitter of leaving many of its questions unanswered. Meanwhile, a study released earlier this week by University of Oxford researchers also found that right-wing groups have widely shared false stories on Facebook.
In addition to the hearing in Washington, the U.K. lawmakers also traveled to New York for additional meetings with technology and media companies.
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