Social Networking Giants Grilled By MPs On Hate Content

Senior executives at big name social networking firms have been grilled by British MPs this week from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee.

The MPs asked the firms about the role their platforms played in recent events in Washington DC which saw Trump supporters smash their way into the Capitol building on Wednesday 6 January – an event that left five people dead, including a police officer.

All of the platforms were reported by the BBC as saying that they needed to do more to monitor extremist groups and content such as conspiracy theories.

Hate policies

Facebook reportedly said it had removed 30,000 pages, events and groups related to what it called “militarised social movements” since last summer.

“We have a 24-hour operation centre where we are looking for content from groups… of citizens who might use militia-style language,” said Facebook’s vice president of global policy management, Monika Bickert.

“We had teams that in the weeks leading up to the [events in Washington] were focused on understanding what was being planned and if it could be something that would turn into violence,” Bickert added. “We were in touch with law enforcement.”

Meanwhile Julian Knight MP, who chairs the DCMS committee, which is also scrutinising the big tech firms, reportedly asked Google’s global director of information policy Derek Slater what it was doing to fight conspiracy theories.

“Do you think that it would be wise for you to adopt a new policy where you kept money on your platforms in escrow prior to its distribution so that any cause in which disinformation to found to have taken place… you could perhaps withhold that money?” he is quoted by the BBC as asking.

Google’s Slater reportedly replied that it was an “interesting idea” and that Google was always “re-evaluating its policies”, but he made no commitment to the idea.

Twitter ban

MPs also quizzed Twitter on its decision to permanently ban President Donald Trump. Some have criticised the move including German leader Angela Merkel and Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador, who are no fans of the outgoing US president.

In the wake of the attempted coup on 6 January, Twitter ‘permanently’ banned Donald Trump, and Facebook banned Donald Trump ‘indefinitely’ from its platforms (Instagram and Facebook).

Twitter’s head of public policy strategy Nick Pickles was asked if doing so undermined its insistence that it was a platform rather than a publisher.

It was, he said, time to “move beyond” that debate to a conversation about whether social networks were enforcing their own rules correctly.

Questioned why it had banned Trump while still allowing other politicians to “sabre-rattle” on its platform, Mr Pickles added: “This is the complexity and challenge of these issues but generally content moderation is not a good way to hold governments to account.”

Trump’s tweets were inciting violence “in real-time”, he added.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey last week admitted that it was a ‘dangerous’ precedent, but said the microblogging platform was placed in an untenable situation, due to the false and misleading content from Trump, along with his incitement of terrorists to overthrow the democratic process of the US government.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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