Lawmakers cite social media’s role in violent extremism

Tech

FILE – In this April 23, 2021, file photo, The Facebook app is shown on a smart phone in Surfside, Fla. Australia plans to crack down on online advertisers targeting children by making social media platforms seek parental consent for users younger than 16 years old to join or face fines of 10 million Australian dollars ($7.5 million) under a draft law released Monday, Oct. 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Lawmakers say they’re growing increasingly concerned that social media has become a breeding ground for violent extremism.

They held yet another hearing Thursday to discuss potential regulations that would hold Big Tech accountable. The Senate’s Homeland Security hearing comes after a whistleblower revealed new details about the inner workings at Facebook, which announced Thursday that it is renaming itself “Meta.

Lawmakers in both parties said the new data only amplifies the need for more federal oversight.

A panel of experts pleaded with Congress to stop violent extremism from spreading on social media.

“How many lives will be lost before Big Tech puts people over profit?” David Sifry with the Anti-Defamation League asked. “With no accountability, no regulation … Extremists find a haven to reach, recruit and radicalize.”

Regulation advocates say Congress must require social media platforms includingFacebook and YouTube to be transparent about how they spread information.

“It’s essential that we act now to set sensible rules,” said Karen Kornbluh with the Digital Innovation and Democracy Initiative. “We shouldn’t need a whistleblower to access data.”

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., says he’s eager to ramp up regulations and remove legal shields that protect Big Tech from responsibility for the content they promote.

“Americans deserve answers,” Peters said. “In attack after attack, there are signs that social media platforms played a role in exposing people to increasingly extreme content.”

Peters says mass shootings such as the one in El Paso or the January attack at the Capitol are a direct result of Big Tech’s inaction.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, agrees change is needed.

“This exploitation of social media, of course, is not new,” Portman said.

But he warns Congress should not go overboard and said holding Big Tech accountable should be “done in a matter that balances First Amendment protections.”

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., says he’s concerned regulations will unfairly censor conservatives.

“Who is going to be the unbiased arbiter of truth? I don’t think it exists,” Johnson said.

Despite that division, Peters and Portman say they’re eager to find a bipartisan solution and are promising more hearings to investigate the role social media platforms play in violent extremism.

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