Lawmakers reproach social networks for role in Capitol attack

By Marc Arcas

San Francisco, Mar 25 (efe-epa).- Several US lawmakers on Thursday reproached top executives at Facebook, Google and Twitter for the role their firms played in the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by thousands of followers of former President Donald Trump, some of them armed.

Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Sundar Pichai (Google) and Jack Dorsey (Twitter) testified virtually at a tense hearing of the House Commerce Committee at which they were the targets of harsh accusations both by Democratic and Republican congresspeople, although for different reasons.

The Democrats, who hold a majority in both houses of Congress and on the committee, focused their criticism on the prevalence of disinformation and extremist political rhetoric on the Internet platforms and demanded that the CEOs increase measures to prevent the circulation of that type of content.

Republicans, on the other hand, said that it was precisely the measures being requested by the Democrats that amounts to censure of conservative opinions and threw back in the faces of the trio of execs the fact that all three of their firms have banned Trump from posting there.

Democratic Congressman Mike Doyle, who chaired the session, said that the world had seen how the three social platforms eliminated terrorist content posted by the Islamic State but always end up choosing profits over security and the well-being of their users, the nation and US democracy.

Doyle said that what happened during the Capitol assault was that a “mob desecrated” the democratic process and he directly accused Facebook, YouTube and Twitter of having nourished the attack and the insurrectionist movement.

After the attack, in which five people died, the social networks were fingered as a tool that was necessary for the organization and coordination of the assault.

When asked directly by another congressman, Democrat Frank Pallone, how it was possible that he could not admit Facebook’s role in the organization of the attack, Zuckerberg answered that responsibility rests with those who “broke the law” and staged the insurrection, not with the online platform itself.

He said that it was Trump who had given the speech that sparked the attack, rejecting the election result and called on his supporters to “fight like hell” and march on Congress to overturn the election.

Of the three executives, the Facebook chief was the most combative, while Twitter’s Dorsey maintained a more conciliatory tone and Google’s Pichai acted rather distant, as he normally does, and seemed to search for the most neutral words he could find.

He said that the CEOs were just people who want to improve the world for everyone, including their critics, admitting that sometimes they make mistakes and acknowledging – to some degree – that Twitter did play a role in the Capitol assault.

Pichai tried not to get into details and always focused on the delicate balance that the social networks must find to guarantee the maximum freedom of expression and points of view and to eliminate fake information and content that encourages violence.

When the turn of GOP lawmakers came, Trump once again – without being present – took center stage in the debate, since conservatives consider his banning by the three social networks to be the most egregious form of censure against rightist opinions, something they call the “cancel culture” that they claim is trying to silence conservative rhetoric.

Trump remains banned indefinitely from Facebook and Twitter – the latter being the platform he used multiples times a day during his presidency – and YouTube announced on Thursday that it will only allow him to open his account there again when the risk of violence in the country has been reduced.


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