Congressional Panel On Internet And Disinformation... Includes Many Who Spread Disinformation Online

from the because-of-course dept

We've pointed out a few times how silly all these Congressional panels on content moderation are, but the one happening today is particularly silly. One of the problems, of course, is that while everyone seems to be mad about Section 230, they seem to be mad about it for opposite reasons, with Republicans wanting the companies to moderate less, and Democrats wanting the companies to moderate more. That's only one of many reasons why today's hearing, like those in the past, are so pointless. They tend to bog down in silly "but what about this particular moderation decision" which will then be presented in a misleading or out of context fashion, allowing the elected official to grandstand about how they "held big tech's feet to the fire" or some such nonsense.

However, Cat Zakrzewski, over at the Washington Post has highlighted yet another reason why this particular "investigation" into disinformation online is so disingenuous: a bunch of the Republicans on the panel, exploring how these sites deal with mis- and disinformation -- are guilty of spreading disinformation themselves online.

A Washington Post analysis found that seven Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee who are scheduled to grill the chief executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter about election misinformation on Thursday sent tweets that advanced baseless narratives of election fraud, or otherwise supported former president Donald Trump’s efforts to challenge the results of the presidential election. They were among 15 of the 26 Republican members of the committee who voted to overturn President Biden’s election victory.

Three Republican members of the committee, Reps. Markwayne Mullin (Okla.), Billy Long (Mo.) and Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (Ga.), tweeted or retweeted posts with the phrase “Stop the Steal” in the chaotic aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. Stop the Steal was an online movement that researchers studying disinformation say led to the violence that overtook the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Cool cool.

Actually, this highlights one of the many reasons why we should be concerned about all of these efforts to force these companies into a particular path for dealing with disinformation online. Because once we head down the regulatory route, we're going to reach a point in which the government is, in some form, determining what is okay and what is not okay online. And do we really want elected officials, who themselves were spreading disinformation and even voted to overturn the results of the last Presidential election, to be determining what is acceptable and what is not for social media companies to host?

As the article itself notes, rather than have a serious conversation about disinformation online and what to do about it, this is just going to be yet another culture war. Republicans are going to push demands to have these websites stop removing their own efforts at disinformation, and Democrats are going to push the websites to be more aggressive in removing information (often without concern for the consequences of such demands -- which often lead to the over-suppression of speech).

One thing I think we can be sure of is that Rep. Frank Pallone, who is heading the committee for today's hearing is being laughably naïve if he actually believes this:

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the Democrat who chairs the committee, said any member of Congress using social media to spread falsehoods about election fraud was “wrong,” but he remained optimistic that he could find bipartisan momentum with Republicans who don’t agree with that rhetoric.

“There’s many that came out and said after Jan. 6 that they regretted what happened and they don’t want to be part of it at all,” Pallone said in an interview. “You have to hope that there’s enough members on both sides of the aisle that see the need for some kind of legislative reform here because they don’t want social media to allow extremism and disinformation to spread in the real world and encourage that.”

Uh huh. The problem is that those who spread disinformation online don't think of it as disinformation. And they see any attempt to cut back on their ability to spread it to be (wrongly) "censorship." Just the fact that the two sides can't even agree on what is, and what is not, disinformation should give pause to anyone seeking "some kind of legislative reform" here. While the Democrats may be in power now, that may not last very long, and they should recognize that if it's the Republicans who get to define what is and what is not "disinformation" it may look very, very different than what the Democrats think.

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Filed Under: congressional hearings, content moderation, disinformation, donald trump, election disinformation, house energy and commerce committee, republicans, section 230, stop the steal
Companies: facebook, google, twitter


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