“The era of the Wild West on social networks is over” Really?

This shock statement opened the door to the US Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday with top executives of Facebook and Twitter. Once again, these platforms are in the hot seat, following the slippage of recent years, be it propaganda campaigns, the promotion of false news or harassment. The status quo no longer works. Can web giants change after breaking everything?

“The era of the Wild West on social media is over,” said Vice President Mark Warner in his opening remarks. The purpose of today’s meeting is to lay the groundwork for new policies to frame them. ”

This is the first time Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, visibly uncomfortable, had to testify before the US Congress. The unhappy mine, he recognized the failures of Twitter over the past two years in terms of misinformation, harassment, foreign interference and automated influence campaigns. “It’s not a healthy public space,” he said.

Mr. Dorsey has nevertheless given some encouraging signs. Its platform now withdraws twice as many false accounts as before, from 8 to 10 million per week. But for him, Twitter has to think about his relationship with his audience. “We need to ask ourselves what Twitter behaviors encourage or discourage among its users. The answers will lead to tectonic changes on the Twitter side, and in the way our industry operates. The changes required will not be easy to implement. ”

He said, for example, that certain visual choices in Twitter’s presentation encourage users to collect as many subscribers as possible, regardless of the quality of the audience. Twitter wonders if this is really a good incentive, he said.

Like his boss, Mark Zuckerberg, in front of the Senate in April, Facebook’s chief of operations, Sheryl Sandberg, acknowledged the platform’s failures. She recalled the initiatives put in place by Facebook to avoid such slippages. “Our opponents are determined, creative and well financed. But we are even more determined, and we will continue to fight back, “she said.

Sandberg mentioned that the security team had doubled its staff and was now monitoring publications in more than 50 languages. It should be noted that Facebook is available in 113 languages ​​and dialects and that, according to some information, there are between 150 and 200 languages ​​spoken by more than 1 million people. The social network is also widely criticized for facilitating the spread of false news, sometimes deadly, in Myanmar and the Philippines.

Google shines by its absence

The absence of Google did not go unnoticed. Indeed, Larry Page, the CEO of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, had refused to testify. Alphabet had offered to send another representative, but the proposal was rejected by the committee.

The testimony of Google would have been all the more interesting as several media said yesterday afternoon that a team of researchers had managed to circumvent the systems put in place by Google to combat political interference. The team used an IP address located in Russia and rubles to buy political ads in the United States. The content of these ads was identical to some Russian ads removed on Facebook. Google has released them without hesitation.

“I’m disappointed that Google is not here. Perhaps its representatives are too arrogant, “said Senator Marco Rubio.

It was the latter who had the sharpest questions for Mrs. Sandberg and Mr. Dorsey. “At our request, you work to suppress misinformation or hate speech, that’s fine, but what do you do when an authoritarian regime asks you to do so? Because their definitions of misinformation or hate speech may be different, “he asked them. He claimed that Pakistan has asked Twitter to block sites that publish blasphemous content and that Turkey has closed accounts of journalists, among others.

“What we asked you to do in the fight against misinformation is what other countries have asked you to do against their political opponents. It is not morally equivalent. Is not that right? Mr. Rubio asked Mr. Dorsey. “Yes, that’s right,” he said.

The malaise of social networks

The two social media representatives were struggling to explain how they would apply their policies and values ​​around the world to varying degrees of geometry. “We will only operate in countries that respect our values,” said Sandberg. “Even in China? Replying Mr. Rubio. “Even in China,” she replied. Facebook and Twitter are currently stranded in this country.

The discomfort of Mr. Dorsey and Ms. Sandberg caused by these questions speaks volumes about the state of social networks. These have become so big that they are virtually impossible to manage. They must enforce the same policies of use in countries with different customs and customs. They must also succeed in navigating mined political terrain, where the line is thin between what is considered misinformation and what is the challenge of power.

No one should seriously expect Silicon Valley engineers to be equipped to answer these complex and philosophical questions. Yet this is what they are asked to do, in the absence of other options.

In the meantime, these platforms will no doubt continue to react to scandals as they are spread in the media. “On the Twitter side, we are fortunate that our community includes many journalists, who act quickly to correct the situation when there is misinformation,” Dorsey said. The number two Facebook also acknowledged that the platform depended on some external observers to report unwanted or dangerous content.

Sorry, Mr. Dorsey and Ms. Sandberg, but it should not be the job of journalists or users to clean up your platform.

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