Post-election hearing

Did Facebook and Twitter’s election defenses work? Tuesday’s hearing could hold the answers.

If lawmakers actually do their job this time, they could get crucial answers about how tech platforms fought election misinformation.

Did Facebook and Twitter’s election defenses work? Tuesday’s hearing could hold the answers.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey recently appeared at another Senate hearing on Section 230.

Photo: C-SPAN

When they testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey will undoubtedly try to convince lawmakers that their companies took unprecedented actions this year to protect the 2020 election.

If lawmakers actually do their job this time, they could get answers about whether any of those actions worked.

Yes, the last Senate hearing featuring Zuckerberg, Dorsey and Sundar Pichai (who will not attend Tuesday's hearing) was an unmitigated partisan disaster, and there's no guarantee this one will be any different. But with the election behind us and attempts to undermine it still very much ongoing, members of the committee have a chance to redeem themselves by getting to the bottom of important questions about how these platforms have dealt with those attempts from President Trump on down.

The hearing was initially scheduled after Facebook and Twitter limited the spread of a viral New York Post story about president-elect Biden's son Hunter in October. Now, Republicans seem even more primed to cry censorship than when the hearing was first announced, given the huge volume of warning labels the two companies have since slapped on President Trump's own posts. That means if anyone is going to get to the bottom of whether the platforms' strategies were effective, it will likely be the Democrats.

Perhaps the most important question Zuckerberg and Dorsey could answer is whether warning labels actually stopped or slowed the spread of misinformation. That's nearly impossible for researchers outside of the companies to figure out. "As external researchers to those platforms, it's difficult to measure the effects of their interventions because we don't know what those interventions are or when they happen, or what combination of interventions are happening," Kate Starbird, an associate professor at the University of Washington, said on a recent call with the disinformation research group the Election Integrity Partnership.

Twitter hinted at some of these answers in a blog post last week, in which executives said tweets that included warning labels saw a 29% decrease in quote retweets. But that figure didn't distinguish between the subtle labels that appeared below some tweets and the more forceful ones that required users to click through an interstitial before they could view the tweet at all.

Twitter also touted its "pre-bunk" notifications, which informed users that voting by mail was safe and that the election results might be delayed at the top of their feeds. Those prompts were viewed by 389 million people, according to Twitter, but that number says very little about the impact those prompts had on those people.

So far, Facebook hasn't shared any such numbers illustrating its labels' effectiveness. "We saw the same posts on Twitter and Facebook receive pretty different treatments," said Jessica González, co-CEO of the advocacy group Free Press. "Facebook had a more general message, which was almost the same as the message they put on any post people posted that had anything to do with the election. I'm worried about the milquetoast nature."

González said lawmakers should use this opportunity to press both companies on whether and how they're studying those qualitative questions about their warning labels and what results, if any, they've found so far.

Erin Shields, national field organizer at MediaJustice, which is part of a group called the Disinfo Defense League, said Zuckerberg and Dorsey need to answer questions about their treatment of repeat offenders. This is a concern other disinformation researchers at the Election Integrity Partnership have recently raised as well, regarding a slew of far-right personalities who have repeatedly spread voting misinformation. Twitter recently permanently suspended an account belonging to Steve Bannon over a video in which he argued Dr. Anthony Fauci and FBI director Christopher Wray should be beheaded. Facebook took down the video, but left Bannon's account untouched.

"At what point do those rule violators get suspended?" Shields said. "Regular, everyday people get booted off the platform and get their accounts suspended for much less. It's interesting to see how much grace these platforms are giving political actors who are consistently violating their policies."

One related question from Shields: How much of the violative content consisted of live videos, like Bannon's, or memes? And how much longer did it take to take action on those posts, as opposed to posts containing text? The answer to that question, Shields argues, could say a lot about how porous these platforms' defenses are when it comes to video and imagery.

"We know they have some ability to check words, but what are they doing about memes and graphics and, in particular, live video where disinformation and misinformation is being shared with no pushback from the platforms?" Shields said.

This question is what makes YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki's absence from the hearing so conspicuous. YouTube took by far the most hands-off approach to election misinformation, allowing videos falsely declaring President Trump's victory to remain on the platform and rack up views. YouTube added subtle warning labels to some videos and removed their ability to run ads, but was far less proactive than either Facebook or Twitter in directly contradicting misinformation within warning labels.

YouTube has pushed back on some of the criticism it's faced, stating that 88% of the top 10 results in the U.S. for election-related searches come from authoritative sources. But that stat elides the fact that people often encounter YouTube videos on other websites or social media platforms, without ever touching YouTube search. Given how much coordination there was between tech platforms and federal agencies leading up to Election Day, it's unclear why YouTube took such a markedly different approach. "YouTube has been let off the hook here," Shields said. Without Wojcicki there, the Senate will have to save those questions for another day.

Fintech

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 Reading Show 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 Reading Show less
FTA
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.
Enterprise

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 Reading Show 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 Reading Show 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.

Enterprise

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 Reading Show 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
Bulletins