Zuckerberg dismisses Facebook’s role in polarising US, blaming ‘political and media environment’

Facebook, Google and Twitter CEOs face members of Congress for hearing on social media’s role promoting ‘extremism and misinformation’

Zuckerberg denies Facebook’s role in polarising US

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has cast doubt on his company’s platforms’ responsibility for increased polarisation and political division in the US during his opening remarks to a Congressional committee examining social media’s role in promoting “extremism and misinformation”.

“I believe that the division we see today is primarily the result of a political and media environment that drives Americans apart, and we need to reckon with that if we’re going to make progress,” he said in a virtual conference on Thursday.

The chief executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter are facing a House committee to address dis- and misinformation across their companies’ platforms and networks during their first appearance on the Hill following the deadly insurrection on 6 January, following sprawling conspiracy theories and false narratives about the 2020 election across social media.

“The reality is our country is deeply divided right now, and that isn’t something that tech companies alone can fix,” Mr Zuckerberg said in his opening statement.

US Rep Michael Doyle, the Democratic chair of the subcommittee hosting the hearing, asked the CEOs whether they bear responsibility for Capitol attack.

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“The people who spread that content, including the [former President Donald Trump] and others as well with repeated rhetoric over time … I think those people bear the primary responsibility as well,” Mr Zuckerberg said.

Mr Doyle – among several furious lawmakers on the committee – fired back: “Your platforms supercharged that.”

The Capitol riot has made the issue deeply personal for lawmakers, some of whom are mulling legislation to more tightly regulate the companies’ products.

“We fled as a mob desecrated the Capitol, the House floor and our democratic process,” Mr Doyle said in his opening remarks. “That attack and the movement that motivated it started and was nourished on your platforms.”

Mr Zuckerberg has not flatly answered whether his company’s platforms played a role in the riot.

“Certainly there was content on our services, and from that perspective there is further work we need to do to make moderation more effective,” he said.

All three CEOs were repeatedly asked to answer “yes” or “no” questions, including whether their platforms were disseminated content that fuelled violence.

Only Twitter’s Jack Dorsey answered “yes”.

“But you also have to take into consideration the broader ecosystem,” he added. “It’s not just about the technological systems that we use.”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said “it’s a complex question” while Mr Zuckerberg said insurrectionists and Mr Trump as well as those actively spreading mis- and disinformation are to blame.

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