Can Twitter, Google and Facebook avoid being biased against conservative views?

Executives from Facebook and Twitter will appear on Capitol Hill today for Big Tech's third high-profile outing in Washington in less than twelve months.

But no executive from Alphabet Inc's Google is expected to testify, after the company declined the Senate Intelligence Committee's request to send one of its most senior executives, frustrating lawmakers.

Senator Richard Burr, the committee's Republican chairman, said he expected the hearing would focus on solutions to the problem of foreign efforts to influence us elections and sow political discord, with a jab at Google.

The US Justice Department said on Wednesday it would probe social media giants over concerns over competition and "stifling the free exchange of ideas". Trump even suggested the federal government could regulate Google and other companies accused of censoring conservatives.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey also faces irate Republicans who contend social media companies have been biased against conservatives. "We believe strongly in being impartial, and we strive to enforce our rules impartially", Dorsey said in his prepared statement.

The threat of potential federal intervention came just as Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg were testifying before Congress about their efforts to root out false news and foreign meddling in United States elections.

"Each of you have come a long way with respect to recognizing the threat", Senator Mark Warner, the committee's top-ranking Democrat, said. Chief election commissioner O P Rawat told TOI that "EC's interactions with the three social media companies are complete". They admitted they had failed to prevent Russian interference in 2016. He acknowledged that the company's systems now place the burden of reporting threats on the victim, but said Twitter is committed to "build algorithms to proactively look for when these things are occurring and take action".

Last week Trump accused Google's search engine of promoting negative news articles and hiding "fair media" coverage of him, vowing to address the situation without providing evidence or giving details of action he might take.

FILE PHOTO: Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer and Member of the Board, attends the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, January 18, 2017.

Another, more complex, issue may arise when Mr Dorsey testifies later in the afternoon in front of the House Energy. "That's why it is incredibly important for the public to understand how precisely the companies' machine-learning algorithms shape what we see online and who we engage with online".

Using Twitter, Trump has attacked companies like Amazon and Google, as well as private citizens like union leader Chuck Jones in 2016.

  • Fernando Stephens