The House Intelligence Committee grilled tech industry leaders including Google and Twitter over “Russian interference” in social media during the 2016 Election, citing Infowars as a main culprit of “fake news.”
Facebook, Twitter, and Google executives testified last week to the committee about taking steps to protect users from fake news and malicious content, including advertising transparency, content vetting, and efforts to identify Russian-based accounts.
During the hearing, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) pointed out to a Twitter executive that an Infowars story about New York Mayor Mike De Blasio ignoring warnings about incoming attacks went viral on Twitter.
“If you clicked on the hashtag #NYCTerroristAttack, which is “trending” marked with a red button saying “live,” the top tweet links to an Infowars story with the headline, “Imam: I Warned De Blasio About NYC Terror; He Was Too Busy Bashing Trump.”
Quigley shook his head before continuing: “This is a real-time example of when we talk about this information being weaponized, how quickly can you act and what’s your responsibility to set the record straight so that the people who saw this know that it’s fake news?”
He added that Twitter needs to figure out a way to stop Infowars stories from “spreading like some sort of virus through the legitimate world.”
“That’s something we’re thinking about all the time,” responded Twitter General Counsel Sean Edgett.
“It’s a bad user experience. And we don’t want to be known as a platform for that.”
Putting aside Quigley’s dishonesty about the Infowars story in question, which simply presents facts about what an imam said of De Blasio, the idea that lawmakers want social media companies to decide what’s real or fake sets a dangerous precedent.
That notion was not lost on Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), who surprisingly came to the defense of Infowars and free speech.
“How in the world do you intend to identify fake news without weaponizing this in the political realm?” he asked.
“Because as I said, there is an enormous degree of opinion in almost every bit of that and if you’re viewed as being political in this – and it’s my fear that you will be regardless of what you do – if you’re viewed as being political then it’s not monitoring fake news, it’s weaponizing it and it’s editorializing it.”
The entire panel of tech executives sat in silence with no response for him.