Seven things to know about the Big Tech CEO hearing

From Zuckerberg's denials to Dorsey's subtweets, here are a few key moments.

Seven things to know about the Big Tech CEO hearing

The House Energy and Commerce Committee grilled Sundar Pichai, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey for hours on Thursday.

Photo: Daniel Acker/Getty Images

For the first time since the attack on the U.S. Capitol in January, the CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter testified before Congress about the role their platforms played in stoking the violence and, well, whatever else members of the House communications and technology subcommittee wanted to ask.

The hours-long hearing covered a range of topics, from misinformation to social media's role in suicide and self-harm to how tech platforms enable civil rights violations. As with every hearing featuring Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai and Jack Dorsey, the committee members seemed at least as committed to grandstanding and chastising the witnesses as they did to asking substantive questions, and the witnesses seemed just as committed to ducking the few substantive questions they were asked.

Still, there were a few moments and themes that illuminated how each executive thinks about future regulation, their own platform's faults and even how seriously they take the committee's questions.

Here's what you need to know:

Zuckerberg refused to take any blame for Facebook's role in the Capitol riot

In his opening remarks, Zuckerberg explicitly put the responsibility for the Capitol riot on former President Trump. "We did our part to secure the integrity of the election," Zuckerberg said. "Then, on Jan. 6, President Trump gave a speech rejecting the results and calling on people to fight."

Later, Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle kicked off his questions by asking if the CEOs believe their platforms bear some responsibility for the "Stop the Steal" movement, which culminated in the Capitol riot. Zuckerberg and Pichai both avoided answering the question head-on, while Dorsey said yes.

"Our responsibility is to make sure that we build effective systems," Zuckerberg said, before Doyle cut him off, saying he was choosing "not to answer the question."

Pichai said Google "always feel[s] a deep sense of responsibility, but we worked hard this election." He added: "It's a complex question."

Dorsey, who went last, answered yes. "But you also have to take into consideration the broader ecosystem," he said. "It's not just about the technology platforms that were used."

But Zuckerberg did acknowledge the role of Groups in extremism

It was a blink-and-you-miss-it moment, but even as he deflected blame for the Capitol riot onto former President Trump, Zuckerberg did cop to the role that Facebook Groups play in political polarization. Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger asked Zuckerberg about research from Berkeley computer science professor Hany Farid that suggests Facebook's algorithms "are actively promoting divisive, hateful and conspiratorial content." In response, Zuckerberg touted the company's recent decision to stop recommending civic and political Groups to users.

"We were seeing that that was one vector that there might be polarization or extremism, and Groups might start off with one set of views, but migrate to another place," Zuckerberg said.

While he's spoken publicly about "turn[ing] down the temperature" of the political landscape on Facebook, this was a rare admission on his part of the way Groups can nudge users toward increasingly extremist views.

Pichai and Dorsey gave tepid endorsements of Facebook's Section 230 proposal

Before the hearing even began, Zuckerberg submitted prepared remarks outlining a number of proposals for Section 230 reform. As part of those proposals, Zuckerberg suggested that Congress make platforms' Section 230 immunity contingent on their "ability to meet best practices" to combat the spread of illegal content. "Instead of being granted immunity, platforms should be required to demonstrate that they have systems in place for identifying unlawful content and removing it," Zuckerberg wrote, noting that small platforms should face a different set of requirements than large ones.

During the hearing, the committee tried to pin Pichai and Dorsey down on whether they support these recommendations and received some lukewarm endorsements. Pichai said Zuckerberg's pitch includes "good proposals around transparency and accountability, which I've seen in various legislative proposals as well, which I think are important principles." Pichai said Google would "certainly welcome" these types of legislative changes.

Dorsey also said he supports the proposals that have to do with transparency, but said he was concerned about Zuckerberg's approach regarding small platforms. "I think it's going to be very hard to determine what's a large platform and a small problem platform," he said, "and it may incentivize the wrong things."

Zuckerberg won't say whether he shut down efforts to make Facebook less divisive

Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone pointedly asked Zuckerberg about a May 2020 article in The Wall Street Journal, which reported that Zuckerberg had personally curbed efforts to tamp down on divisiveness on the platform. According to the story, Facebook at one point considered limiting the spread of content that is disproportionately favored by hyperactive users, an effort they hoped would reduce the amount of hyperpartisan activity on the platform. The Journal reported that Zuckerberg allowed the plan to go forward, but only after the weighting of the system was cut by 80%.

Zuckerberg repeatedly declined to confirm or deny the Journal's account. "Congressman, I can't speak to that specific example," he said instead, "but we've put in place a lot of different measures, and in the aggregate I think that they're effective."

Zuckerberg and Dorsey say they'd support legislation to mandate diversity reports

Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, spoke at length about the impacts the social media platforms have had on Black communities. He specifically pressed the CEOs on the lack of diversity within tech's ranks.

"We would hope that by now, the tech workforce would reflect the diversity of our country," Butterfield said. "There must be meaningful representation in your companies to design your products and services in ways that work for all Americans."

"Would you oppose legislation that would require technology companies to publicly report on workforce diversity at all levels?" Butterfield asked.

"Congressman, I don't think so, but I need to understand it in more detail," Zuckerberg said.

Dorsey, meanwhile, said definitively that he wouldn't oppose such a law. "It does come with some complications, though," Dorsey said. "We don't always have the demographic data for our employees."

Pichai stopped short of offering a yes or no, but pointed out that Google was the first company to publish transparency reports. "We do today provide in the U.S. demographic information on our workforce, and we are committed to doing better," Pichai said.

Lawmakers focused on social media's impact on children

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle found common ground as they grilled the CEOs about how their products affect young children. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told the CEOs that she believes they have abused their power "to manipulate and harm our children."

"My husband and I are fighting the Big Tech battles in our household every day," McMorris Rodgers said, referring to her own children. "It's a battle for their development, a battle for their mental health and ultimately, a battle for their safety."

Later, Rep. Kathy Castor, who has introduced legislation to update children's privacy laws, pressed Pichai and Zuckerberg about how they treat children on their platforms.

When she asked Pichai how much Google makes in advertising revenue from children under the age of 13, he said, "Most of our products are not eligible for children under the age of 13," disregarding the immense popularity of children's content on YouTube.

Zuckerberg, responding to the same question, replied, "It should be none of it — children under the age of 13 are not allowed on Instagram." (Facebook is, however, reportedly building an Instagram app for children under 13.) Zuckerberg also revealed that Facebook is researching the impact of social media on children.

Dorsey subtweeted lawmakers during the hearing … and got caught

About halfway through the hearing, Dorsey, who's known for quirky antics and a blasé attitude during congressional testimony, began subtweeting the lawmakers grilling him from the dais.

After Rep. Billy Long asked the tech CEOs whether they understood the difference between "yes" and "no," Dorsey tweeted a poll with two answers: "yes" and "no." His accompanying tweet read, "?"

Dorsey also retweeted former Google policy head Adam Kovacevich, who wrote, "It would be awesome if some Member engaged @jack in a substantive discussion on Twitter's 'protocols' idea. It could achieve a lot of what they're aiming for."

"Agreed," Dorsey added.

Rep. Kathleen Rice called Dorsey out for tweeting while testifying. "Your multitasking skills are quite impressive," Rice said.


Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep ReadingShow less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep ReadingShow less
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep ReadingShow less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep ReadingShow less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.


Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

Keep ReadingShow less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories