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Ross: Big Tech fumbles basic Q&A about misinformation oversight in front of Congress

Sep 15, 2022, 9:39 AM

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(Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

(Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Senators grilled social media executives yesterday, questioning whether they were serious about controlling their platforms.

The company execs insisted they are quick to remove fake QAnon conspiracies and other bad stuff. But most of the Senators seemed skeptical– wondering why they couldn’t just prevent the bad stuff from being posted to begin with:

“I appreciate at the back end that you’re going to take some action. So you caught it, but not until 16% of the American people are part of this insidious theory,” Senator Gary Peters started off the meeting.

Excellent question! So Senator Peters of Michigan asked for some numbers:

“Each of you, what is the total number of full-time engineers you have in your company? How many of those engineers work full time on ensuring the trust, safety, or integrity of your platforms? And three, how many engineers work full time on product development?” Peters asked.

Chris Cox, the chief product officer at Meta Platforms, Facebook’s parent company, went first:

“The number of years engineers at the company is on the order of 10s of 1000s,” Cos replied.

“No, no that’s not what I asked,” Peters interrupted.

No – he asked for the precise number. And it’s not like the question came out of the blue, he’d notified all the witnesses he wanted the numbers.

So he turned to the guy from Twitter:

“We have several thousand engineers at Twitter,” Jay Sullivan, Product VP at Twitter, replied.

“So same thing you don’t have the numbers as we asked, okay,” Peters responded.”

Of course it’s not okay, and the Senator is getting a little ticked off. He asks the YouTube guy, the number of engineers policing your platform:

“We have 1000s of engineers that work…” YouTube Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan started.

“Okay, so you don’t have a specific answer for me either, Ms. Papas?” Peters interrupted.

Finally, Vanessa Pappas, Chief Operating Officer at TikTok.

“I don’t have the engineer numbers, but trust and safety represent our largest labor expense for TikTok,” Pappas said.

Nobody did their homework.

More from Dave Ross: No words for Dow stocks dropping 1,200 points, only lyrics

Or could it be that in fact there is really no way to control a social media platform, without doing what old-school media is required to do, which is to take responsibility for what they send out to the world?

Which would involve actually looking at and listening to all that stuff before it’s posted.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Ross: Big Tech fumbles basic Q&A about misinformation oversight in front of Congress