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Caging Twitter: Jack and Sheryl Go to Washington, Squashing Alex Jones and Infowars

Jack Dorsey and Twitter censorship

Jack Dorsey and Sheryl Sandberg go to Washington and permanently suspend Alex Jones and Infowars Twitter accounts, setting precedent for a wave of censorship...

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, and Sheryl Sandberg, who serves as COO of Facebook, have been called out by Congress for alleged censorship and violating constitutional rights. It was thought that Google would show up with representation, but they did not appear during the hearing.

The hearing opens with Committee Chairman Senator Burr, who gave a genuine nod to the late John McCain before beginning the hearing and addressed both corporate heads of these two social media giants. Mr. Burr pressed the notion that language must be candid and precise as he praises both companies, who were diligent in disrupting influence operations from foreign interference, most notably not from Russia but from Iran.

He noted that Facebook removed well over 652 pages, groups, and accounts and stated that Twitter’s security teams removed 284 accounts, calling these efforts “successes” as well as Google’s security efforts. Mr. Burr acknowledged Jack Dorsey’s push to keep the digital conversation healthy on Twitter while attempting to weed out agents who use Twitter to thwart national interest. He also praised Sandberg’s efforts to hire and build security teams on Facebook to combat such interference as well.

The Real Meat

Pageantry aside, the real meat begins where it affects the population in this Information Age with regards to free speech and digital human rights. Candidness was stressed, and Mr. Burr emphasized transparency as the fundamental element in discussing these issues. Terms such as “content creation” to “content facilitator” were used. Burr began to implicitly state the notion that these are not just random acts but a systematic program of brilliance via algorithms and programming.

Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook “... changes minds and hardens opinions…” said Burr as he proceeds to structure the basis of the hearing; no topic was off limits just so long as honest, open discussion was prevalent. Government legislation, more resources through government cooperation, and even the notion of implementing national security policies that punish bad information were all on the table between these two Silicon Valley giants and the United States government.

Smart, thoughtful policy solutions were the framework of this hearing. Vice Chairman Warner spoke, which began the grilling of the CEO and COO of these two companies, starting with swearing an oath.

Ladies First

Sheryl Sandberg was given 10 minutes for her testimony. Her opening remarks were about the necessity of defending fair democratic voting processes and Facebook’s fight to stop fraudulent voting and election interference, as it is the basis of American society. She states that Facebook’s positive aspect is about communal connectivity and the establishment of those connections.

She flips to then blame Russia’s interference in the election process by, “... comprehensive and multi-faceted campaign to sow discord, undermine democratic institution, and interfere…" via a direct quote from a report compiled by the committee running the hearing. She stressed that Facebook is working diligently to bump security up.

Sandberg says Facebook has done what it can to identify and take down profiles and pages that are abusive and violent via their Artifical Intelligence tech. She states their primary goal is taking down fake accounts which create distrust within the community. Sandberg also notes the efforts to take down “fake news” via removal of monetary incentives for posting, demoting article authenticity through third-party fact-checking sites, and showing related articles to offer more information were some advancements in Facebook’s efforts.

She ends her statements with, “Senators, let me be clear. We are more determined than our opponents, and we will keep fighting. When bad actors try to use our site, we will block them. When content violates our policies, we will take it down. And when our opponents use new techniques, we will share them so that we can strengthen our collective efforts. Everyone here today knows that this is an arms race, and that means we need to be ever more vigilant...”

Dorsey Tweets a Testimony

After Sandberg, Jack Dorsey is given the floor. He thanks the committee and reads his opening statement, which he also tweeted live on the Senate floor. You can read his opening statement/tweet below:


I’m someone of very few words, and typically pretty shy, and I realize how important it is to speak up now. If it’s okay with all of you, I’d like to read you something I personally wrote as I considered these issues. I’ll also tweet this out now.
— Jack (@jack) Spetember 5, 2018 


In any public space, you’ll find inspired ideas, and you’ll find lies and deception. People who want to help others and unify, and people who want to hurt others and themselves and divide. What separates a physical and digital public space is greater accessibility and velocity.
— Jack (@jack) Spetember 5, 2018 


We aren’t proud of how that free and open exchange has been weaponized and used to distract and divide people, and our nation. We found ourselves unprepared and ill-equipped for the immensity of the problems we’ve acknowledged.
— Jack (@jack) Spetember 5, 2018 


Our interests are aligned with the American people and this committee. If we don’t find scalable solutions to the problems we’re now seeing, we lose our business, and we continue to threaten the original privilege and liberty we were given to create Twitter in the first place.
— Jack (@jack) Spetember 5, 2018 


We‘ve made significant progress recently on tactical solutions like identification of many forms of manipulation intending to artificially amplify information, more transparency around who buys ads and how they are targeted, and challenging suspicious logins and account creation.
— Jack (@jack) Spetember 5, 2018 


We’ve learned from 2016 and more recently from other nation’s elections how to help protect the integrity of our elections. Better tools, stronger policy, and new partnerships are already in place. We intend to understand the efficacy of these measures to continue to get better.
— Jack (@jack) Spetember 5, 2018 


Today we‘re committing to the people, and this committee, to do that work, and do it openly. We‘re here to contribute to a healthy public square, not compete to have the only one. We know that’s the only way our business thrives, and helps us all defend against these new threats.
— Jack (@jack) Spetember 5, 2018 


“What made it possible was the fact that I was born into a nation built by the people, for the benefit of the people. Where I could work hard to make something happen which was bigger than me. I treasure that, and will do everything in my power to protect it from harm. Thank you.”

Defining Social Media

Chairman Burr addresses Sandberg and asks her to define social media for the general public. Sandberg says that “... it’s about giving people a voice (to say what you want to say at any time, in any way on that platform).' She stressed that it is less about the content and more about the connection people make using Facebook, whether it is selling goods or hiring people for business.

Jack states that social media should be a public square and Twitter is about conversations that the public can partake in. Twitter’s role is to ensure in that conversation that all can benefit, as well as increasing the health of that conversation, but that takes measuring that health, amplifying what makes a conversation healthy, and then incentivizing the usage of the platform.

With regards to advertising relevancy and optimization based on user data, Sandberg stated that what is shared with Facebook is used to present ads that are “relevant” to users. She asserted that privacy and advertisements go hand in hand and are not as mutually exclusive as some would regard. She ultimately stated that users have complete control over what they want to see and with what they define to be relevant.

Dorsey states that there is an openness and a regular cadence with other platforms providing more transparency and operational abilities. Policy reviews and enforcement of those policies have been investigated by Jack’s security team, and he states that he is open to more collaboration.

Tag Team Tech?

Facebook and Twitter are open to teaming up with each other in sharing and building up each other’s platforms to fight foreign influence, fake news, and the increasing of both transparency and of security and privacy issues. Consulting with third-party legislative partners and each other to increase their ability to find and halt “nefarious actors” are some of the tech giants goals. Burr said that the government will take part in, and desires to be included in, this conversation regarding stopping foreign influence in American political and cultural dealings.

The hearing switches gears to the effectiveness of “bots” or “automated accounts” which both Facebook and Twitter have been crusading against. Regarding bots, Dorsey stated that Twitter users should be allowed more context concerning the accounts they are seeing and the information presented therein. The question of what users can see and what they want to see remains unanswered. Dorsey stated that, based on what can be scripted through Twitter’s API, it gets difficult to know what is a genuine human account vs. an account that is automated to look and act like a human interaction due to the complexities of these “bot behaviors.”

Dorsey then started to break down the dual nature of what Twitter serves. It is both a personal and a communal site where users and who they follow determine what they see and what they want to see from the people they follow. He also states that trending, search lists, and replies where users can inject themselves into the conversation are also under user control. This is the sphere in which Dorsey says much of his work is done to remove offensive behavioral content. Dorsey admits it is not a perfect system, but it is growing towards becoming a better one to protect users.

Sandberg Skates the Issues

Sandberg was asked about data collection and the right of Facebook users in knowing what is collected, and also how it is used in terms of data value and transparency. Her response never really addressed Warner’s question of the value of data that is collected by Facebook. She gives a very bland and pivoting answer, stating that it is about the right regulation regarding transparency and furthers innovation.

Warner’s point is about more transparency, not less, regardless of the user’s willingness or unwillingness. Warner then addresses the issue of privacy and personal information rights; can a user consent away those rights to personal information or can users halt Facebook from obtaining the data that users are not willing to share. No answer was given, and they moved on due to time restrictions.

Who Decides?

James Risch, R- Idaho, begins his line of questioning. He focuses on the issue most conservatives find concerning with these social media conglomerates. Who makes the determination on what is a human account and what is a “nefarious actor that is indulging in inauthentic behavior” and what is a “bot?” Sandberg stated that there are policy teams who determine such, and security teams who are identifying and addressing such behaviors.

She states that it is those teams who determine these behaviors. She goes on to define “coordinated inauthentic behaviors,” wherein she says, “... means behaviors that are inauthentic which mean so people are not representing themselves to be who they are to be and coordinated which means they are coordinating it and both are unacceptable.“ After Risch questions how these teams determine such behaviors, whether it be consensus or continued evaluation and re-evaluation, Sandberg states that broad ideas like “hate speech” are easily picked up while “bots” are not.

Sandberg states once they are identified, they are dealt with. Risch responds by asking for examples of the standards on Facebook’s policies. Sandberg listed off “hate speech" leading to “violence” and “bullying” are grounds for being banned from Facebook. When presented with the same question, Dorsey said they have a “Trust and Safety” team which determines the validity of accounts and the behaviors of these accounts. It is evaluated by this “team,” who then reports to the legal team. The legal team then passes the information to the Compliance team, who then reports directly to Dorsey, who then determines whether it is a genuine human account or a “tricky bot behaving as one.”

Censorship and Sharia

Senator Rubio brings about a more focused tenor of question regarding the value system of Twitter and Facebook. He brings evidence that while both companies have benefited from the free and democratic value systems America is built upon, both companies have also capitulated to the whims of countries that do not align with the Western democratic value of “freedom of expression.”

Governments like Pakistan and Turkey have been known to urge Facebook and Twitter to conform to Islamic blasphemy laws and block accounts who do not comply. Russia requested profiles be taken down due to the fact some have been pro-Ukrainian. Vietnam requested data be stored so that the state can find dissenters and interference of state affairs. Rubio then asks the question, “These principles of our democracy, do you support them only in the United States or do you support them around the world?”

Sandberg stated that the value of democracy is a global value for Facebook and non-democratic nation states and governments will not see adherence to their laws from Facebook. Rubio pressed a bit more and said, “... even if it means not operating in these countries?” Sandberg stood her ground and said, “We would only do so in countries where it would be in keeping with our values,” indicating Facebook has not complied with Vietnam, Russia, China, and other such places that do not share the same values as the United States.

The Global Digital Square

When asked the same question regarding Twitter’s value system being in line with American democratic ideals and how accounts are blocked at the request of these non-democratic government countries, Dorsey stated that Twitter implemented a policy to allow for per country content takedown. Meaning, within the boundaries of the nation, content which violates their laws will not be seen in their nation but the rest of the world can. Dorsey said that is important because the conversation can still continue regarding, say, the market in Turkey. The rest of the world can talk about it even if Turkish citizens cannot see the discussion taking place.

Dorsey says that, even at that, Turkish citizens can still partake in the conversation through proxy servers and interact in the “global digital public square” as Dorsey defines Twitter to be. Dorsey states that they have often fought against government requests for hiding information and taking down tweets that do not comply with their national law and have won some and lost some.

The effort of ensuring freedom of speech is something Dorsey says he values for everyone in the world, but it is going to take building some bridges. Rubio then pressed the issue of where Dorsey stood in terms of compliance with the democratic values of America or compliance to opposing values of other nations. Dorsey said they work within the bounds of the law of these nations but that Twitter is still true to the founding ideal of freedom of expression.

Kamala Plays Her Cards

After a five minute break, the hearing reconvenes and gears then switch. A noted segment of the hearing was with Democratic Senator Kamala Harris. She speaks a little bit concerning Facebook revenue based on ads and how bots have affected it. What she then decides to hone in on is the hate speech content from users. She stated that there were some who have supported white men, but then some statuses championed the harassment of black children.

Sandberg emphasized the concerted efforts of banning “hate speech” off the platform and stated that Facebook is a champion of civil rights. Harris decides to corner Sandberg regarding an update to the language of their policy regarding children and adults. Sandberg obviously plays the, “We’re not racist!” card to appease Senator Harris, who is notorious for playing the race card in any Senate hearing she is a part of. It comes as no surprise she would pivot into that area of the discussion.

Storing Information

Another interesting moment in the hearing comes from the questioning line of Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma who asked the question, “When you suspend an account, do you archive the information from that account in order to maintain it?” Dorsey stated they might. Facebook said they also keep the information to further investigate. Is it internally investigated or is it a shared investigation was Lankford’s next question. Dorsey and Sandberg both answered that the information is internally investigated unless there are legal ramifications, in which case it is shared with law enforcement partners.

According to sources, it appears that Alex Jones of InfoWars sat in the hearing and confronted Marco Rubio and a fight almost broke out. Laura Loomer began shouting at Dorsey to bring back her blue checkmark. Congressman Long attempted to drown out her complaints as she was finally escorted out of the hearing.

Overall, the hearing was solely a Q and A regarding information storage and usage, security, and opening a conversation for a more transparent partnership between the government and these platforms to secure national interests. Sadly, the whole two hour and 40-minute hearing did not address the main concerns of conservatives, such as the banning of certain speakers and accounts who espouse conservative perspectives.

During and after the hearing, Twitter shares dropped 6% while 44% of Americans between the ages of 18 to 29 have deleted the Facebook app off their smartphones. The elephant is still in the room. Policies regarding how Twitter and Facebook are banning conservative voices and profiles from their platforms have yet to be addressed.

For a full context, the link to the full hearing is provided here.

John Lee / Senior Contributor
I am a conservative, Christian Asian who loves God, country, and music. I am proud to be American and want to MAGA!
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