March 25, 2021 – “The dirty truth is that they are relying on algorithms to purposely promote conspiratorial, divisive or extremist content so that they can take money, make money in ad dollars, and this is because the more outrageous and extremist the content, the more engagement and views these companies get from their viewers,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., the chairman of the full committee. In 2020, Facebook’s profits rose 58 percent to $29.1 billion. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, saw its profit rise 17.5 percent to $40.3 billion last year. Twitter, a smaller social media company than its other two rivals, reported a loss of $1.14 billion for 2020. 

In any other context, a business trying to make more money by keeping its customers hooked to its product or service would be seen as the sine qua non of a capitalist enterprise. But in this case, user-generated content that’s flowing through social media platforms could range from a middle-school kid bullying a classmate or a sexual predator preying on young people to messages promoting violence against religious and ethnic minorities or — planning an attack on Congress. 

In response to numerous complaints from Congress, researchers and watchdog groups, social media companies have formed several in-house and independent committees to decide what content to keep and what to remove, how to get rid of repeat offenders, all while continuing to keep their platforms humming along with clicks, likes, and forwarded messages.  After seeing the CEOs avoid a yes or no answer several times, Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, was frustrated.

“There’s a lot of smugness among you,” Johnson told the CEOs. “There’s this air of untouchableness in your responses to many of the tough questions.” Johnson then likened the social media companies to Big Tobacco, which after years of contesting claims that they were promoting an addictive substance, agreed to a $245 billion civil litigation settlement in the late 1990s. “While this is not your first hearing in front of Congress, I can assure you that this hearing marks a new relationship between all of us here today,” Johnson said. “There will be accountability.” 



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