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Facebook And Twitter CEOs Face Questions On Content Moderation

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Senators are upset with Facebook and Twitter again. This time, it's about how the social media companies handled allegations of voter fraud and other false or misleading posts around Election Day. A Senate committee grilled the companies' CEOs at a hearing today. NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond joins us now with more.

Hi, Shannon.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: We have to note, as usual, that Facebook is a financial supporter of NPR. So tell us what the purpose was of today's hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee.

BOND: Well, it was originally called by Republican senators who were really angry over how Facebook and Twitter had curbed the spread of this story in The New York Post before the election about President-elect Joe Biden's son. But, Ari, the focus at today's hearing on both sides of the aisle was really broader. You know, senators took these companies to task for how they handled misinformation about the election.

So Democrats - you know, they've been pointing to efforts from President Trump and his allies to cast doubt on the election results on social media. You know, these are still happening. On the other hand, Republicans, you know, repeated claims that the platforms come down harder on conservative speech than others. They say that's bias.

SHAPIRO: Well, what did Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey say in response?

BOND: Well, both of them defended their approaches to the election. And it's worth noting we don't really know, actually, how effective these measures have been, and they say that's something they're going to be studying and sharing that data. Also, notably, both CEOs admitted some errors in how they've handled things in recent weeks. So Dorsey said Twitter was wrong to block people from sharing the New York Post story. It actually made a change to its policy as a result of the whole brouhaha. Zuckerberg, on the other hand - he talked about mistakes Facebook has made in blocking some political ads. And he said that's due to there just being so much content on this platform. I mean, there are more than 2 billion Facebook users. That's a lot of posts.

SHAPIRO: There have been so many hearings with these CEOs. Are lawmakers saying they'll do anything about it?

BOND: Well, there is a growing sense that, you know, lawmakers may try to pass new laws. I mean, both Democrats and Republicans have come to this agreement that tech companies just have too much power, as they see it. Here's committee chair Republican Senator Lindsey Graham at the hearing today.

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LINDSEY GRAHAM: There's Republican and Democrat concern about the power that's being used by social media outlets to tell us what we can see and what we can't, what's true and what's not.

BOND: And even the CEOs themselves today - they said they are open to more regulation. But, you know, as notable as all that is, there isn't really agreement on both sides of the aisle over what the real problem is here. You know, senators just can't agree. Are the companies doing too much or too little?

SHAPIRO: So there's another big election coming up, the two Senate runoffs in Georgia in January. What do you expect from the companies regarding that election?

BOND: Well, that is a question that Democrat Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut had for both CEOs. He asked them, and here's what they said. And Zuckerberg's answer's first.

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MARK ZUCKERBERG: Senator, our policy is to have a similar approach in the upcoming Georgia special elections that we took during the general election.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Mr. Dorsey?

JACK DORSEY: Yes, we do. We - and we intend to learn from all of our experience with this election.

BOND: And, Ari, that is the big question I think all of us have. What have Twitter and Facebook learned from the presidential election? Is that going to change the way they handle these decisions going forward for Georgia and for other elections? And, you know, there's also one more thing that Jack Dorsey of Twitter confirmed will change after this election. It has to do with President Trump. So Twitter has this policy exempting world leaders from some of its rules, but once Trump leaves office, he won't get that special treatment anymore. He's going to be a regular Twitter user just like the rest of us.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Shannon Bond, thank you.

BOND: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.