Date
11 December 2018
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey takes his seat as he arrives with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to testify before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey takes his seat as he arrives with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to testify before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters

US govt to probe social media firms over free speech

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) and state attorneys general will meet this month to discuss allegations that social media platforms could be thwarting the free exchange of ideas on their sites due to political bias.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions convened the meeting, set for Sept. 25, to look into whether social media firms “may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms,” Reuters reports, citing a DoJ statement on Wednesday.

The statement did not name Facebook and Twitter, whose executives testified in Congress on Wednesday, but the firms have been harshly criticized by President Donald Trump and some of his fellow Republicans for what they see as an effort to repress conservative voices, the report noted.

The companies deny any such bias.

Shares of social media companies slipped on Wednesday as Facebook and Twitter executives met skeptical lawmakers.

In the morning, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testified at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on efforts to counteract foreign efforts to influence US elections and political discourse.

The Senate panel has been examining reported Russian efforts to influence US public opinion throughout Trump’s presidency, after US intelligence agencies concluded that entities backed by the Kremlin had sought to boost his chances of winning the White House in 2016.

Sandberg and Dorsey said the firms had stepped up efforts to fight such influence operations, but lawmakers said there was far more to be done and suggested Congress might have to take legislative action.

Committee members criticized Google for refusing to send top executives to testify at the Senate hearing, with just weeks before the Nov. 6 congressional elections.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio said the company might have skipped the hearing because it was “arrogant.”

Ahead of Wednesday’s hearings, Trump, without offering evidence, accused social media companies of interfering in the November mid-term elections, telling a conservative website that social media firms are “super liberal.”

Democratic House committee members accused Republicans of calling the hearing for political reasons, noting that Trump had featured accusations of bias in fundraising letters.

The mid-terms will decide whether Republicans will keep their majorities in the House and Senate.

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RC

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