The leaders of three of the biggest tech companies in the world are facing a dilemma of their own after a Netflix documentary about the issues caused by their services sparked a Senate hearing slated for later this week.
The CEOs of technology giants Facebook, Google and Twitter are expected to testify for an Oct. 28 Senate hearing on tech companies’ treatment of speech and information on their platforms.
The Senate Commerce Committee voted last week to authorize subpoenas for Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Sundar Pichai of Google and Jack Dorsey of Twitter to force them to testify if they didn’t agree to do so voluntarily. Spokespeople for the companies said Monday that the CEOs will cooperate.
The hearing comes on the heels of the recent release of "The Social Dilemma," a documentary that explores the negative impact social media and Big Tech can have on people, and focuses on how some tech companies use psychology to influence user habits for profit.
“It’s because of this business model that’s at the heart of these technology companies, which is that they make more money the more time they get you to spend,” Tristan Harris, a former Google executive and co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology, said in a recent interview with Fox News' Bill Hemmer.
Harris, who is featured prominently in "The Social Dilemma," adds that people are more likely to spend time on content that affirms their prior beliefs.
“It’s bad for the collective ... no matter where you fall on all these sides, we need to be able to agree in society on what we want to do about various problems we have," He said. "Whether it’s poverty, or climate change or racism, whatever we care about, we all have to come together and have a shared set of facts ... technology makes us operate in narrower and narrower, incompatible views of reality."
The Senate hearing comes less than a week before Election Day and marks bipartisan criticism of Big Tech companies, which have been under increasing scrutiny in Washington and from state attorneys general over issues of competition, consumer privacy, and hate speech.
Republicans have kept up a barrage of criticism of Silicon Valley’s social media platforms, accusing them of deliberately suppressing conservative views, while Democrats have focused their criticism of social media mainly on hate speech, misinformation, and other content that can incite violence or keep people from voting.
Facebook and Twitter faced widespread criticism earlier this month after each social media platform took steps to slow the spread of the New York Post’s report on emails found on a laptop that purportedly belonged to Hunter Biden. The emails detailed alleged overseas business dealings with contacts in China and Ukraine.
A Facebook representative said the company would limit the spread of the article until its claims could be fact-checked. Twitter blocked the article from being shared entirely, in a step it said was due to its "Hacked Materials Policy." Twitter also locked the New York Post’s account and others that attempted to share the report until their posts were deleted.
Zuckerberg and Dorsey will voluntarily testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee next month to address allegations of bias in their handling of news coverage during the 2020 election cycle, committee Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham announced last Friday.
President Trump signed an executive order earlier this year challenging the protections from lawsuits under a 1996 telecommunications law that has served as the foundation for a more unfettered speech on the Internet.
"The Social Dilemma" docu-drama has struck a chord with many people as worries about social media's impact on society and political upheaval grows. Harris says that social media poses a safety and security risk from countries like China and Russia.
"There's kind of a World War III of global information warfare that's happening right now," Harris said on a recent episode of the Fox News Rundown podcast. "If ... Russia, China try to fly a physical plane in the United States, we'd be shooting them down by the Department of Defense, but if they try to fly an information plane into the United States, they're met by a Facebook or Google algorithm that says, 'Which zipcode do you want to target?'"
Harris cited the debate over fracking as one example of how foreign entities use social media to manipulate public discourse in the United States.
"Russia specifically has actually gone into, you wouldn't believe this, but anti-fracking and pro-environmentalist groups and actually tried to amplify environmentalists in the United States because if their voices are heard and saying we shouldn't frack in this country, it means that we have to buy more foreign Russian oil," he said.
Facebook officials recently came out against the makers of "The Social Dilemma" with a public statement in which they claim that the documentary gives a "distorted view" of social media platforms.
"We should have conversations about the impact of social media on our lives. But ‘The Social Dilemma’ buries the substance in sensationalism," reads the post entitled "What 'The Social Dilemma' gets wrong."
The social media giant also criticizes the documentary for only having former employees speaking about the platforms.
"The film’s creators do not include insights from those currently working at the companies or any experts that take a different view to the narrative put forward by the film," reads the statement. "They also don’t acknowledge—critically or otherwise—the efforts already taken by companies to address many of the issues they raise. Instead, they rely on commentary from those who haven’t been on the inside for many years."