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March 26, 2021updated 29 Mar 2021 5:25pm

Twitter chief asks Twitter for answers to Congressional fake news questions

By Eric Johansson

Jack Dorsey held a Twitter poll on what he should answer while being questioned at a congressional hearing on fake news yesterday. When the Twitter CEO was called out on it, he just smirked.

The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment happened a few hours into the five-hour marathon grilling. By that stage, Dorsey and the CEOs of Google and Facebook had suffered a barrage of questions about disinformation campaigns on their platforms.

The House Committee on Energy & Commerce had called the hearing to address concerns about the rise of fake news, disinformation and conspiracy theories across the internet.

The committee had called the probe just weeks after the violent storming of Capitol Hill on 6 January that led to the deaths of five people and left hundreds injured. The insurrection at the building that houses the US Congress was motivated partly by an avalanche of conspiracy theories on social media networks, arguing that voter fraud had led to Joe Biden taking the White House. These theories were endorsed by then-President Donald Trump, who repeatedly suggested that the vote had been stolen. Following the deadly riot, he was banned from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as well as many other social media platforms.

The disinformation surrounding the election and concerns over Covid-19 vaccine conspiracy theories motivated the lawmakers to summon the three Silicon Valley bosses for the virtual hearing.

Market analysts and experts had hoped that the hearing would provide details about the platforms’ stance on regulation, their relationship with traditional news outlets, and how their algorithms could be used to promote fake news. But the occasionally chaotic probe surely left the media industry disappointed, with the politicians mostly grandstanding rather than seeking answers.

The congresspersons’ lines of questioning often took the form of monologues outlining each politician’s stance, before asking the tech CEOs to either confirm or deny their take on the matter by asking a yes-or-no question. When Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg – who congressman Tom O’Halleran kept calling “Zuckerman” – and Sundar Pichai attempted to offer extended answers, they were cut off by the lawmakers.

While the visibly frustrated Dorsey kept his composure during the hearing, he seemingly poked fun of the situation by posting a poll on Twitter two hours into the grilling, with people getting to pick between the options of either voting “Yes” or “No”.

Users who apparently didn’t know how the Twitter boss was spending his afternoon were openly perplexed by the vote, asking Dorsey to clarify what they were voting on.

He also took time out of the hearing to reply to a tweet from former Lime and Google public policy director Adam Kovacevich who said he’d like to see politicians ask Dorsey more about his open protocol initiative bluesky, which Twitter champions as a way to boost transparency in the online industry.

Dorsey, who had briefly touched on these plans in his opening remarks, simply replied: “Agreed.”

A few hours later, Kathleen Rice, the US representative for New York’s fourth congressional district, called him out on his social media antics.

“Mr Dorsey, what is winning, Yes or No, on your Twitter account poll?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied, smirking.

“Your multi-tasking skills are quite impressive,” Rice said, before moving on with her line of questioning.

At the time of writing and almost 100,000 votes in, the “Yes” side is winning the poll with 65.1%.

The irony of Congressional questions about untrustworthy information on social media being answered by a randomly self-selecting group of social media users was apparently lost on Dorsey and the legislators.

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