Sep 14, 2022 - Technology

Congress will quiz tech's product chiefs on extremism

Illustration of numerous internet browser windows showing the US Capitol Building in red repeating
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Top tech executives in charge of product design for Meta, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok will be grilled on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

Driving the news: The ways that online extremism can lead to real-world violence and tech product design can promote dangerous content will be the focus of a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee hearing.

Why it matters: Congressional hearings spotlighting tech CEOs have regularly devolved into efforts by questioners to shape "gotcha" moments, but this time, lawmakers say they're aiming for substantive answers about algorithms, design and how business decisions are made.

Details: Witnesses will include:

  • Chris Cox, chief product officer, Meta
  • Neal Mohan, chief product officer, YouTube
  • Vanessa Pappas, chief operating officer, TikTok
  • and Jay Sullivan, general manager of Bluebird, Twitter.

Two former tech product execs from Meta and Twitter and a tech policy expert from a think tank will appear on an earlier panel.

What they're saying: Social media platform design can push people toward "increasingly extreme and even dangerous content like white supremacist and anti-government ideologies that have motivated recent domestic terror attacks — one of the most serious national security threats we face today," Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement.

  • Peters said the hearing is an opportunity to hear "directly from the architects of these platforms on how they balance their pursuit of increased user engagement and revenue with the risk of funneling people towards violent and dangerous content that threatens the safety of our communities."

What we're watching: Though the committee's Democratic majority will try to hold a focus on extremism that has lead to violence in the U.S., China and Russia will surely come up as well, especially with TikTok's Pappas present.

  • Pappas is likely to face aggressive questioning about the app's Chinese owner, ByteDance, and the security of U.S. user data.
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