Social media company executives and technology researchers differed in the extent to which they believe algorithms are being used to suppress harmful content on online platforms during a Tuesday congressional hearing.
Facebook’s vice president for content policy, Monika Bickert, said it would be “self-defeating” for the company’s algorithms to push extreme content.
Tristan Harris, who used to work for Google as a design ethicist and is now co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology, cast doubt on how far those algorithms go to limit such divisive content.
“Their business model is to create a society that is addicted, outraged, polarized, performative and disinformed,” he said. “While they can try to skim the major harm off the top and do what they can — and we want to celebrate that, we really do — it’s just fundamentals, they’re trapped in something that they can’t changed.
“It’s almost like having the heads of Exxon, BP and Shell here and asking about what you’re doing to responsibly stop climate change.”
Harris and fellow expert Joan Donovan, research director for Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, said social media companies play a significant role in U.S. democracy, pointing to the use of such platforms by organizers of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Subcommittee Chairman Chris Coons and ranking member Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., appeared to share concerns about regulations on social media companies and potential First Amendment issues.
“None of us wants to live in a society that as a price of remaining open and free is hopelessly politically divided,” Coons said. “But I also am conscious of the fact that we don’t want to needlessly constrained some of the most innovative, fastest-growing businesses in the West. Striking that balance is going to require more conversation.”
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