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Following a five-hour hearing where Congress drilled Big Tech CEOs about every topic from the spread of misinformation to their platforms’ alleged anti-conservative bias, both sides of the aisle seem to have united on one very important issue: addressing the impact of social media on America’s children.
The CEOs of Facebook, Google, and Twitter appeared before Congress last Thursday, answering a slew of questions from lawmakers about their ethical practices and concerns raised over how their services may be affecting the next generation.
“Big tech is essentially handing our children a lit cigarette and hoping they stay addicted for life,” said Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH).
Big tech online services such as Google’s subsidiary streaming site YouTube have caught flack in the past for pushing services aimed at children due to their filter discrepancies for both user-generated content and advertising campaigns. Citing the increasingly pervasive nature of social media and online technology in our everyday lives, the corporations argued that offering children a safe space online with parental controls was the best solution to curb early exposure to adult content.
Few lawmakers showed consensus with that sentiment.
“Remember, our kids — the users — are the product,” Rep. Kathy McMorris (R-WA) said Thursday. “You — Big Tech — are not advocates for children. You exploit and profit off them.”
Despite the company’s defense of their services aimed at children, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg found his own parenting called into question during the hearing, where he confessed that his young children do not use his company’s services.
“My daughters are five and three, and they don’t use our products,” Zuckerberg said.
Up until recently, Big Tech products and services have been intended only for use by those 13 years of age and older. However, Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube have all launched child-centric online services over the last few years, offering parents the ability to control what their children can see and advertising that they provide stricter content filtering parameters on these platforms.
“These applications introduce our children to social media far too early, and include manipulative design features intended to keep them hooked,” said Rep. Lori Trahan (D-MA) during the hearing. “This committee is ready to legislate to protect our children from your ambition.”
With the regulation of Big Tech becoming an increasingly hot topic in 2021, we can expect to see more on this in the coming weeks and months.
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Former President Trump Sues Twitter, Facebook, and More
Former president Donald Trump announced on Wednesday that he is suing Twitter, Facebook, Google, and their CEOs Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg, and Sundar Pichai, alleging that the social media juggernauts violated Trump’s First Amendment rights when they all banned him from their services. The 45th president has been barred from using Twitter, Facebook, and Google’s Youtube for months now after a mass of his supporters stormed the US Capitol on January 6th.
The suits against these tech giants are requesting that Trump be reinstated on all platforms. Currently, his only chance at returning to any of these sites lies with Facebook, which recently said Trump was banned until at least January 2023, although he may be allowed to return after that.
The suits also demand that the court decide section 230 of the Communications Decency Act be ruled unconstitutional. Trump has long railed against section 230, which prohibits technology companies from being held liable by what users on their platforms post.
“We’re not looking to settle,” Trump told reporters at a press conference in front of his gold club in Bedminster, New Jersey. “We don’t know what’s going to happen but we’re not looking to settle,”
Already there are many analysts saying the lawsuits will likely not be held up in a court of law. The claim that Trump’s First Amendment rights were violated will have a hard time passing muster with a judge because Facebook, Twitter, and Google are all private entities and not government institutions, therefore they are free to make choices related to speech that don’t violate constitutional rights. Still, it is one of Trump’s largest moves against Big Tech, a group he has been fighting since before leaving office. Following his ban from the platforms, Trump’s opinion on the companies only lowered and his drive against them increased.
Immediately after announcing the lawsuits, Trump’s political action committees began sending out fundraising emails asking for money to help fund the lawsuits.
Voters Think Social Media Companies are Profiting From Division
A new poll from Data for Progress says that a majority of voters think social media websites are playing a major role in the spread of lies, conspiracies and division across the United States. Additionally, the same poll finds that many voters feel that the CEOs of these social media sites are actively profiting and making money off of rampant mistruths.
The poll is just the latest news proving that people on both sides of the political aisle are not fans of social media and its grip on the public’s thinking. Although Democrats and Republicans across the country disagree on many things, they have one common consensus: social media is only driving this country apart more.
58% of voters in the new poll see social media playing a “very significant role” in the spread of lies and misinformation. The data states that Republicans feel this way at a slightly higher rate than Democrats, 65% to 50%. Independent voters feeling this way came in at 63%.
More troubling is the fact that most citizens think that little can be done to change the opinion of someone once they start to believe conspiracies and lies that are found online. A whopping 68% of all voters state that once someone is “hooked on a conspiracy” it is very difficult to change their minds. Democrats, Republicans, and Independents are all in sync on this topic with them believing it 68%, 69%, and 68% respectively.
The poll also found what could only be described as truly bad news for CEOs such as Mark Zuckerberg. Data for Progress says that 66% of voters believe that social media CEOs are profiting off of lies that find a home on their sites. Furthermore, 63% also feel that these social media companies actively allow the conspiracies to continue because it “kept users hooked on their products.”
The poll is quite damning for Facebook, Twitter, and other popular sites because it shows just how much people distrust them. However, it is unlikely that most of these voters will stop using the same sites they criticize. It feels that most people do not like the way these companies operate but still accept it and use their products daily.
Facebook, Google, And More Pressure SEC to Require Business Climate Reports
Seven of the biggest technology companies in the world are urging the federal government to hold them accountable about climate change.
Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google parent company Alphabet, and more sent a letter to Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Gary Gensler on Friday, asking that the SEC require businesses to regularly reveal issues related to climate change to shareholders and the public.
The coalition’s letter stated that the companies “believe that climate disclosures are critical to ensure that companies follow through on stated climate commitments and to track collective progress towards addressing global warming and building a prosperous, resilient zero-carbon economy.” It marks one of the most high-profile attempts by big tech to spur more self-responsibility and involvement from their sector and follows other instances of the industry being vocal about the need to address climate change.
Perhaps the biggest request in the letter is regarding greenhouse gases. The companies claim that the SEC should require businesses to report on these gas emissions in an annual report that provides transparency to anyone involved in the company and any potential customers as well.
Additionally, the group of businesses stated that they have purchased 21 gigawatts of clean energy in their quest for a fully renewable economy.
The letter doesn’t come as a major surprise, since many major tech companies have long been adamant about fighting climate change. However, even the most vocal companies have been criticized for their lack of tangible action. Recently, some of these companies – such as Amazon – have put forth plans to show how serious they are about tackling the pressing issue. Jeff Bezos launched the “Climate Pledge” in September 2019, which included plans for Amazon to use 80% renewable energy by 2024 before transitioning to complete zero emissions by the year 2030.