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Social media chiefs grilled in US Congress over anti-Asian content

Big Tech CEOs take heat over spread of misinformation

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google chief Sundar Pichai and Twitter counterpart Jack Dorsey testified virtually before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on March 25.   © Reuters

PALO ALTO, U.S. -- The CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter came under the congressional microscope Thursday over extremism and misinformation on their platforms, including content accused of fueling hate crimes against people of Asian descent in the U.S.

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, YouTube owner Google's Sundar Pichai and Twitter's Jack Dorsey were brought in as witnesses for the House Energy and Commerce Committee's virtual hearing.

Lawmakers asked about the companies' responsibility for rising anti-Asian sentiment and violence in the U.S., including the killings of six women of Asian descent at Atlanta-area massage spas earlier this month.

On top of anti-vaccine sentiment, the Jan. 6 rioting at the Capitol, and domestic violent extremism, "crimes against Asian Americans have risen by nearly 150% since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic," said the committee's chairman, Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey. "Each of these controversies and crimes have been accelerated and amplified on social media platforms through misinformation campaigns, the spread of hate speech, and the proliferation of conspiracy theories."

The U.S. social media giants took criticism at the hearing for failing to stop anti-Asian hate speech, such as through Facebook and Twitter continuing to allow the spread of such hashtags as "China virus," "Kung Flu" and "Wuhan virus."

Stop AAPI Hate logged 503 anti-Asian incidents in the U.S. in January and February alone.

While acknowledging the spread of hate speech against minorities on social media as an alarming problem, the Big Tech chiefs did not detail additional measures they will take to address it.

Rising anti-Asian hate is "a really big issue" and "something that I do think that we need to be proactive about," Zuckerberg said.

But "we need to be clear about when someone is saying something because they're using it in a hateful way versus when they're denouncing it," he said.

The three CEOs have testified to U.S. lawmakers before. But Thursday's hearing was their first since the Jan. 6 rioting, which multiple committee members blamed on social media.

Committee members also pressed the trio on their efforts to crack down on misinformation about COVID-19 and its vaccines.

In written testimony, Zuckerberg said Facebook has removed more than 12 million pieces of false content, including from foreign leaders, about the virus and vaccines. Pichai wrote that Google has "removed 850,000 videos related to dangerous or misleading COVID-19 medical information, and in total, we blocked nearly 100 million COVID-related ads throughout 2020." Dorsey's written testimony pointed to Twitter's warning labels for tweets with vaccine misinformation and its permanent ban on serial violators of its COVID-19 policy.

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