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Social Media: Pushing Boulders Up The Hill

Social Media: Pushing Boulders Up The Hill

Executives from Facebook and Twitter will appear on Capitol Hill today to face questions from lawmakers. Here’s a quick rundown of the most important issues that are likely to come up:


Election interference: In previous hearings, lawyers from Facebook, Google, and Twitter answered questions about how their websites were used to spread Russian misinformation during the 2016 election. This morning, with the November’s midterms looming, Facebook's Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg (pictured above) and Twitter boss Jack Dorsey will face questions from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about what they are doing to avoid a repeat in 2018.

The companies will point to the hundreds of accounts they’ve shut down or suspended in recent weeks as evidence that they are committed to protecting the democratic process. They’ll talk about their efforts to improve transparency around who is taking out political ads and clamp down on hate speech and fake news. But on the question of how to prevent future meddling, the likely (unsatisfying) answer is that in a free, open, and increasingly connected society, bad actors will always find new ways to push propaganda. The best the tech industry and government can do is try to manage it.

The echo chamber: The tendency for people to seek out online news and views that merely serve to reinforce their own biases is another big issue facing the US and other democracies around the world. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey may be in for a particularly rough ride on this topic in a solo appearance before the House Energy and Commerce committee after lunch. Many Republicans – including President Trump – believe Twitter and other social networks suppress conservative viewpoints. For them, the main problem with the echo chamber is that it threatens free speech. For many Democrats, by contrast, the echo chamber is contributing to an unhealthy civil discourse. It’s hard for democracies to make well-informed decisions when facts get lost in partisan noise.

Dorsey will face tough questions from Republican committee members who know the bias issue resonates with their base. Democrats, meanwhile, will push the Twitter boss on the company’s policies for banning fake news and hate speech, while trying to paint their opponents’ questions about anti-conservative bias as an attempt to muddy the waters around the Mueller probe and other issues that are likely to hurt Republicans’ chances in the midterms. Dorsey will offer statistics, verbal assurances and technical explanations of how Twitter determines whose Tweets get read by whom, and how the platform tries to promote a “healthy public conversation” without favoring one viewpoint over another. But in an ironic turn of events that will surprise no one, committed partisans will only hear what they want to hear.

Regulation: Should internet platforms be regulated like publishing companies? Like public utilities? Or should they be broken up? Those are just a few of the ideas for tightening government control over the tech sector circulating on various sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill that may get airtime today. The drumbeat in favor of increased regulation is growing stronger. Recent headlines out of MyanmarLibya, and China have shown that the challenges facing tech giants go beyond foreign meddling in US elections, and touch on broader questions of how to make a powerful, virtual public square created by private sector tech companies safe for people around the world. Today’s hearings will shape how this important debate unfolds through the 2018 US midterms, and beyond.

The role of the public library has evolved over time. As we move online at an even faster rate, knowledge, entertainment and opportunities for education and employment are found on the internet. Those living in well-connected, affluent places may have come to take internet access for granted. But there is a digital divide in the U.S. that has left people at a disadvantage – particularly since the arrival of COVID-19.

Finding ways to overcome that divide in a sustainable, community-led way could help bring the benefits of the internet to those who need it most. One solution is to use technologies such as TV white space to facilitate wireless broadband – as Microsoft's Airband Initiative is doing. To read more about Microsoft's work with public libraries, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Who does Vladimir Putin want to win the US election? Given the Kremlin's well-documented efforts to sway the 2016 vote in Donald Trump's favor, it's certainly a fair question. And while there's no solid evidence that Russian interference had any decisive effect on the outcome four years ago, the Trump administration itself says the Kremlin — and others — are now trying to mess with the election again.

So let's put you in Vladimir Putin's size 9 shoes as you weigh up Donald Trump vs Joe Biden while refreshing your own personal PyatTridsatVosem (FiveThirtyEight) up there in the Kremlin.

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"The 'American exceptionalism' that I grew up with, the 'American exceptionalism' of the Cold War…I do think has outlived its usefulness." Those words coming from Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former top State Department official under President Obama, indicate how much the world has changed in the past few decades. Her conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Watch the episode: How a "President Biden" could reshape US foreign policy

Less than a week out from Election Day, 66 million Americans have already cast their ballots, and many of those are people who are voting "early" for the first time because of the pandemic. In fact, the early vote total alone this year is already equal to nearly half of all ballots cast in the 2016 general election, suggesting that 2020 turnout could reach historic levels. Most important, however, is how things are playing out in key battleground states where the outcome of the US election will be determined. In Texas, for instance, a huge surge in early voting by Democrats this year has raised the possibility that a state which has been won by Republican candidates since 1976 could now be up for grabs. Here we take a look at early voting in battleground states in 2020 as compared to 2016.

In a national referendum on Sunday, Chileans overwhelmingly voted in favor of a new constitution. But, why are people in this oasis of political stability and steady economic growth in South America willing to undo the bedrock of the system that has allowed Chile to prosper for so long?

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