Facebook, Twitter, YouTube algorithms could be radicalizing people, Congressional Democrats say


In the wake of the January 6th riot at Capitol Hill, a group of Congressional Democrats is asking social media platforms to re-examine the ways they amplify content.

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Friday, a group of Congressional Democrats led by Representatives Anna Eshoo and Tom Malinowski sent letters to Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, Jack Dorsey, and Susan Wojcicki — the CEOs of Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube, respectively. In them, the group points to research suggesting that the algorithms driving content on those platforms may also be driving people towards political extremism.

“On Wednesday, January 6th the United States Capitol was attacked by a violent, insurrectionist mob radicalized in part in a digital echo chamber that your company designed, built, and maintained,” the letter to each company begins. Each letter goes on to note the respective company’s efforts at moderation, but adds that content moderation on platforms as big as these is “a whack-a-mole answer to a systemic problem.”

The fundamental problem, each letter says, is that Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, “[sort] and [present] information to users by feeding them the content most likely to reinforce their existing political biases, especially those rooted in anger, anxiety and fear.” Each letter cites research and reporting from outlets including the Wall Street Journal and CNBC, as well as reporting from here on CNET that as much as 70% of YouTube views are attributable to algorithmic recommendations.

With each platform, the Congressional Democrats are calling for a “fundamental reexamination” of the way these algorithms work, but the letters stop short of a specific call to action on the part of Congress. That said, on Twitter, Malinowski says that Congress plans to reintroduce legislation exposing social media platforms to greater liabilities when algorithmic content amplification leads to real-world violence.

So far, 32 additional Democrats have signed onto the letters, but no Republicans. Facebook, Google, and YouTube did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while a spokesperson for Twitter acknowledged that the company had received the letter and tells CNET that the company intends to respond.

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