Senate questioned Meta, TikTok, YouTube, and Twitter; Cook seen

Senate questioned Meta, TikTok, YouTube, and Twitter; Cook seen

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Execs from four tech giants were called before the Senate Homeland Security Committee yesterday. The Senate questioned Meta, TikTok, YouTube, and Twitter on safety, privacy, misinformation, and more.

Apple CEO Tim Cook was also seen in the building, but he did not appear before the committee …

TechCrunch reports that none of the execs seemed particularly interested in answering the questions put to them, even though they were told in advance what they would be asked.

Congress managed to drag in a relatively fresh set of product-focused executives this time around, including TikTok COO Vanessa Pappas, who testified for the first time before lawmakers, and longtime Meta executive Chris Cox. The hearing was convened to explore social media’s impact on national security broadly and touched on topics ranging from domestic extremism and misinformation to CSAM and China.

Committee Chair Sen. Gary Peters pressed each company to disclose the number of employees they have working full-time on trust and safety and each company in turn refused to answer — even though they received the question prior to the hearing. Twitter General Manager of Consumer and Revenue Jay Sullivan chipped in the only numerical response, noting that the company has 2,200 people working on trust and safety “across Twitter,” though it wasn’t clear if those employees also did other kinds of work […]

Though the executives pointed to the total number of workers who touch trust and safety, none made the meaningful distinction between external contract content moderators and employees working full-time on those issues.

One key concern was that moderation efforts are even worse when it comes to languages other than English.

Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) steered the content moderation conversation in another important direction, questioning Meta Chief Product Officer Chris Cox about the safety efforts outside of the English language.

“[In] your testimony you state that you have over 40,000 people working on trust and safety issues. How many of those people focus on non English language content and how many of them focus on non U.S. users?” Padilla asked.

Cox didn’t provide an answer, nor did the three other companies when asked the same question.

TikTok COO Vanessa Pappas was particularly evasive when it came to the question of the company’s links to the Chinese government.

 Pappas immediately fell into step with her peers, evading straightforward questions, offering partial answers and even refusing at one point to admit TikTok’s well-documented connections to China. When Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) pressed Pappas on where TikTok’s Chinese parent company ByteDance is based, she dodged the question awkwardly by claiming the company is distributed and doesn’t have a headquarters at all […]

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) also drilled into TikTok’s relationship with the Chinese government. “Are there members of the Chinese Communist Party employed by TikTok or ByteDance, or no?” Hawley asked.

Pappas avoided answering directly but eventually landed on the answer that no one making “strategic decisions” at the company has ties to the Chinese government.

It’s clear that the companies believe that they are free to pick and choose the questions they answer, even on issues impacting on election interference and national security.

Apple CEO Tim Cook did not appear before the committee but, interestingly, was seen in the building on the day of the hearings.

Photo: Andy Feliciotti/Unsplash

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