WHAT:

The Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), held a hearing today with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to examine the company’s algorithms and content moderation process.

WHY:

“We have a lot of questions about Twitter’s business practices including questions about your algorithms, content management practices, and how Section 230 Safe Harbor protects Twitter. In many ways, for some of us, it seems a little bit like the Wizard of Oz, and we want to know what’s going on behind the curtain. This summer, reports surfaced that profiles of prominent Republican Twitter users were not appearing in automatically populated dropdown search results, I think you mentioned that in your own testimony. This was after a member of this committee had her tweets and ads taken off the service because of a basic conservative message, and there are other examples that have been sent our way,” Chairman Walden said.

He continued, “Out of the more than 300 million active Twitter users, why did this only happen to certain accounts? In other words, what did the algorithm take into account that led to prominent conservatives, including members of the U.S. House of Representatives, not being included in auto search suggestions?”

WHO:

Mr. Jack Dorsey, CEO, Twitter, Inc. (Opening Statement)

KEY MOMENTS:

duncan

Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) brought up a member of his staff who created an anonymous test Twitter account only to be met with suggestions to follow primarily liberal political figures. He then asked Mr. Dorsey, “How do you explain how a female twenty-something-year-old – who just put in an email address and a 202-area code – why does she only get liberal suggestions?” Click here to watch Mr. Dorsey’s response.

harper

#SubOversight Chairman Gregg Harper (R-MS) raised concerns about Twitter’s internal oversight of algorithms and machine learning, commenting that algorithms are “only as good as the people who create them, edit them, guide them.” Click here to watch the exchange.

McMorris-Rodgers

House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA) asked Mr. Dorsey about a recent tweet threatening violence against Meghan McCain. She said, “First, do you think this is a violation of Twitter’s content policies and rules against violence and physical harm? I’d also like to understand how much of this is driven by the algorithm versus human content managers?”

Mr. Dorsey replied, “It definitely is a violation and we were slow to act. The tweet was actually up for five hours, but five hours way too long. Our current model works, in terms of removing content, based on reports that we receive. We don’t believe that is fair, ultimately. We don’t believe that we should put the burden of reporting abuse or harassment on the victim of it. We need to build algorithms to proactively look for when these things are occurring and take action.”

Rep. McMorris-Rodgers pressed for clarity on Twitter’s current policies. Mr. Dorsey said, “Any sort of violent threat or image is at the top of our priority list in order to review and enforce. And we do have a prioritization mechanism for tweets as we get the reports. But this one was too slow and it’s not as precise at it needs to be.”

RESOURCES:

The Majority Memorandum, witness testimony, and an archived webcast are available online HERE.  

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