March 25, 2021

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Tech CEOs are back in the hot seat

As the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google prepare for their quarterly congressional grilling,  the three tech companies and various advocacy groups have been fighting a public relations battle in the press.

On March 18, human rights group Avaaz published a report faulting Facebook for enabling groups promoting falsehoods about the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The group argued if the company had acted more aggressively to curtail the reach of some of these falsehoods and the groups propagating them, it could have prevented the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

On Monday, Facebook vice president for integrity Guy Rosen published a rebuttal in an op-ed in Morning Consult. He cited the company’s efforts to remove over 1.3 billion fake accounts in late 2020 and its sacrificing of 5% of its site traffic after modifications to its news feed in 2018 as evidence of Facebook’s earnest efforts to address online falsehoods.

Speaking to BBC Radio’s World Questions program, Twitter’s director of public policy strategy Nick Pickles explained the difficulty social media companies face trying to act as global referees for online speech.

“Removing content in some cases makes peoples’ views harden, and in some cases restricts the debate, it restricts the ability to inform and challenge people who have ideas that are not accurate,” Pickles said. He added that the COVID-19 pandemic clarified the potential harms of certain types of misinformation, but it didn’t make social media companies’ jobs any easier.

Speaking on the same program, Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins said too much focus on social media companies misses the broader picture of online misinformation.

“People have lost their faith in traditional sources of authority,” Higgins said. “They go online and they look for alternative sources of authority.” He argued for a more nuanced approach that considers people’s motivations for why they may be seeking out alternative sources of information, rather than blanket bans that scatter users towards harder-to-reach corners of the internet.

Interesting fact-checks

Screenshot of Anti-Corruption Ireland post

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Harrison Mantas is a reporter for the International Fact-Checking Network covering the wide world of misinformation. He previously worked in Arizona and Washington D.C. for…
Harrison Mantas

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