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Jan. 6 Panel Zeros In on Big Tech – WWD

The congressional probe into last year’s Capitol riots in Washington, DC, hit the front lines of Silicon Valley on Thursday, with subpoenas from the House panel on Jan. ask for answers from Facebook mother meta, Twitter, Reddit and YouTube about misinformation in their network.

Although Congress remains divided on most issues, it has been united in overseeing how technology platforms operate. The reasons ranged from accusations of censorship by conservative voices to growing disinformation. But the obscurity that shrouds these networks has frustrated both sides of the aisle, forcing them to turn to tech leaders to testify multiple times over the years.

The latest subpoenas mark a new level of pressure. It is one thing to try to understand the abstract problem of how social media shapes public discourse, but connecting the platforms with a concrete attack on democracy’s place in a civil war. The House history inquiry is another matter.

“The two main questions for the Selection Committee are how the spread of disinformation and violent extremism have contributed to the violent assault on our democracy, and what steps have been taken. What – if any – social media companies have done to prevent their platforms from becoming a base for violent extremists,” said Commission Chairwoman Bennie Thompson, in comments that ready.

“It’s disappointing that after months of engagement, we still don’t have the materials and information needed to answer those basic questions.”

An earlier request in August asked more than a dozen websites and tech companies to preserve records related to the riots. Specifically, it is interested in any analysis of disinformation and extremism during the 2020 election, documents provided to law enforcement and possible internal communications. other related.

The response, if any, has been low pressure, leading to subpoenas.

From here, the Committee members can see that the “fundamental questions” are not so fundamental. Because the way misinformation spreads in social media platforms is more of a feature than a bug.

Similar algorithms that understand user preferences to target ads or product recommendations also recommend other forms of content. Such systems often prioritize engagement, so people who like, share, or comment on certain post types tend to see more of the same posts – welcome to the chamber effect reverberation.

In essence, these kinds of information bubbles can divide people, leading to cultural or social rifts. Pour misinformation and misinformation into the mix, and violence begins to seem inevitable. Add the perfect conditions to maximize its spread, and a recipe for widespread radicalization has emerged.

Those conditions are not easily changed.

Consider the context: For large, publicly traded tech companies that have scaled to massive levels, further growth – an important metric for investors – poses a challenge. considerable consciousness. Slightly better numbers are not enough. They need enough profit to prove that they are not stagnant.

Meanwhile, they run automated systems designed to drive user activity, thus advertising dollars and signups. Platforms built this way prioritize content that stimulates engagement and less that provokes a human response than fear and anger.

Of course, intentions vary between companies and so do their technologies. That is why painting all social networks with the same brush does not necessarily give an accurate look. However, assessing more nuances is impossible, because their inner workings are closely guarded secrets.

But an example has emerged. Equipped with thousands of pages of corporate documents, Facebook Whistleblower Frances Haugen has revealed how the platform turned into a “more infuriating place” in 2018, following a major update to the recommendation algorithm that enhanced polarizing content. At the time, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said the change would promote “meaningful social interactions”.

It has. Some of those interactions became so significant that they caught the attention of the House Committee. But at least the business has grown rapidly.

Compared to last year, Facebook’s first-quarter revenue grew from $11.97 billion in 2018, when Zuckerberg announced the change, to $15.08 billion in 2019 and $17.74 billion in 2020. Last year, revenue skyrocketed to $26.17 billion, at least in part due to a massive increase in online activity during the pandemic. That resulted in a whopping 48% year-over-year growth, followed by a second quarter with an even larger 56% increase, at $29.08 billion.

Revenue fell to $29.01 billion in the third quarter of 2021, as the company faced an onslaught of bad PR over Haugen’s revelations. In the long term, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, sees growth in the pursuit of virtual, 3D, or metaverse Internet. In the meantime, it must find a way to expand its already huge footprint.

Now, the House board’s investigation requires answers from the company and its colleagues, with heart-wrenching questions about how these types of platforms work. In doing so, it also sends an unmistakable message that they must stop the spread of misinformation. But it was much harder than they could have imagined.

https://wwd.com/business-news/technology/jan-6-house-committee-facebook-youtube-reddit-twitter-subpoena-1235032559/ Jan. 6 Panel Zeros In on Big Tech – WWD

Linh

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