Nov. 17 (UPI) — Partisan divides over the role of social media platforms in U.S. elections were on display Tuesday as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey were called to answer questions from the Senate judiciary committee.
The tech leaders appeared remotely before the committee and were asked how their platforms handled the spread of information, and potential misinformation, during the 2020 election campaign.
While both companies took steps to curb the spread of misinformation in the weeks and months before Election Day, Republican panel members grilled the pair about what they characterized as bias against President Donald Trump and conservatives in general.
Judiciary committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., criticized Twitter and Facebook for limiting the exposure of two New York Post articles that made unproven and unverified claims about Hunter Biden, the son of President-elect Joe Biden.
Facebook flagged the article for third-party fact-checking and Twitter initially blocked links to the New York Post articles altogether, but later reversed course.
The companies, Graham said, are “literally engaged in telling us what’s reliable and what’s not based on cable news commentary or tweets from politicians or average citizens.”
Zuckerberg and Dorsey, however, defended the way they navigated the tricky election campaign — particularly after Russian hackers made repeated efforts online and via social media to interfere and influence the vote four years ago in Trump’s favor.
Dorsey said he recognizes that Twitter had made a mistake in the way it handled the New York Post stories, and agreed that social media companies need to be more transparent about why they label or remove posts.
“It is more or less opaque to the public and that’s where I think we have a gap,” he said. “We have transparency around our policies. We do not have transparency around how we operate content moderation… the rationale behind it.”
Zuckerberg said he was pleased with Facebook’s efforts.
“From what we’ve seen so far, our systems worked well,” he said.
Democratic panel members, meanwhile, criticized the Republican majority for even holding the hearing.
“This hearing is not a serious one. It is a political sideshow — a public tar and feathering,” the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, said in his opening remarks.
Tech companies like Facebook and Twitter have come under increased scrutiny this year amid accusations of censorship — mostly from Republicans, including Trump.
During and beyond the presidential campaign, Twitter has repeatedly flagged Trump’s tweets that contain inaccurate or misleading information. In many of those tweets, he attempted to claim victory in key battleground states and has repeatedly made unfounded accusations of voter fraud and misconduct.
Tuesday was the second time Zuckerberg and Dorsey appeared in the Senate to testify in the last three weeks. Late last month, they testified with Google CEO Sundar Pichai at a hearing about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields social platforms from responsibility for user content and says they are under no obligation to moderate.
During that hearing, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also criticized Dorsey for Twitter’s handling of the New York Post articles.