Top executives from Meta, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok just wrapped a three-hour hearing before the Senate Homeland Security Committee. That Listenwhich included Meta CPO Chris Cox, YouTube CPO Neal Mohan, TikTok COO Vanessa Pappas, and Twitter’s GM of Consumer Product (known as “Bluebird”) should focus on how their services impact national security issues.
Notably, the hearing is only the second time representatives from TikTok and YouTube have appeared at such a hearing — Meta and Twitter executives have been dragged before Congress far more often — and the first dedicated to security. The hearing also came a day after Twitter’s former security chief-turned-whistleblower told another Senate committee that the company had previously been warned by the FBI that it had one on its payroll. Yet not a single Homeland Security Committee senator asked Sullivan about the allegation.
To be clear, Sullivan probably wouldn’t have given a substantive answer. When asked about whistleblower Peiter Zatko’s allegation that Twitter lied to the FTC, he simply said, “Twitter denies the allegations.” But it was still somewhat shocking that the issue was not raised in a hearing dealing with the implications security issues addressed by social media platforms in the United States.
The TikTok COO was also asked about the use of the app . “We do not use any facial, voice, audio or body recognition that would identify an individual,” Pappas told Senator Kristen Sinema. She added that facial recognition is used for augmented reality effects in creators’ videos.
There has been much less discussion of other security-related issues, including how social media companies are dealing with domestic extremism. Committee Chair Sen. Gary Peters squeezed Cox and Mohan and why Meta and YouTube didn’t move faster against QAnon. Both sidestepped the issue by focusing on their current politics. Other lawmakers chose to spend their time polling companies on their handling of vaccine misinformation during the pandemic and other content moderation issues.
And as with previous hearings, executives were often reluctant to provide concrete answers to even seemingly simple questions. Peters repeatedly asked each executive how many engineers each company employed — a question he said they were notified in advance — but none gave a direct answer. “To be honest, I’m frustrated that the chief product officers — you all have a prominent seat at the table where these business decisions are made — weren’t better prepared,” Peters said. “Your companies continue to really avoid sharing some very important information with us.”
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