Alex WoodwardThu, 25 March 2021, 6:55 pm
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told members of Congress that Donald Trump should be held responsible for his statements to his supporters during a rally before an insurrection at the US Capitol on 6 January.
The chief executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter faced a House committee to address dis- and misinformation across their companies’ platforms and networks on Thursday, their first appearance on the Hill following the deadly riots fuelled by sprawling conspiracy theories and false narratives about the 2020 election across social media amplified by the former president.
“I believe that the former president should be responsible for his words and that the people who broke the law should be responsible for their actions,” Mr Zuckerberg said in his opening statement.
He said that Facebook did its “part to secure the integrity of the election, and then on January 6, President Trump gave a speech rejecting the results and calling on people to fight.”
“The attack on the Capitol was an outrage and I want to express my sympathy to all of the members, staff and Capitol workers who had to live through this disgraceful moment in our history, and I want to express my gratitude to the Capitol Police, who were on the frontlines in defence of our democracy,” he said.
Facebook suspended the former president’s account in the wake of the attack.
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Mr Zuckerberg told lawmakers that his company worked with law enforcement “to identify and address threats” before the insurrection and “provided extensive support in identifying the insurrectionists” and removing “posts supporting violence” before and after the assault on a joint session of Congress to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election, which MR Trump insists was “stolen” from him and his supporters.
“We didn’t catch everything, but we made our services inhospitable to those who might do harm,” Mr Zuckberberg said. “When we feared that he would incite further violence, we suspended the former president’s accounts.”
But Mr Zuckerberg cast doubt on his company’s platforms’ responsibility for increased polarisation and political division in the US, saying that he believes 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.”
“The reality is our country is deeply divided right now, and that isn’t something that tech companies alone can fix,” Mr Zuckerberg said.
US Rep Michael Doyle, the Democratic chair of the subcommittee hosting the hearing, asked the CEOs whether they bear responsibility for the Capitol attack.
“The people who spread that content, including [Mr 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.”
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 disseminating 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.