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All of the dollars spent by Big Tech on lobbying efforts in Washington, DC must be working. It now seems as if they are safe from any stringent regulation, and they know it. In mid-September, a group of top executives from some of the biggest social media companies in Silicon Valley (Meta, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube) dutifully made their way to the nation’s capital for Senate hearings, but barely a peep was heard in the mainstream media. In fact, it seemed like only industry tech blogs were covering these hearings, which is strange, given the fact that issues of national security were specifically discussed during these hearings.
When Will Social Media Commit to Protecting Their Users
The Senate Homeland Security Committee, tired of getting the run-around from the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, this time invited high-level product managers from the big Silicon Valley social media companies. Surely, these executives – surrounded by the day-to-day activity of creating new products and services – could give solid, concrete answers to questions on the minds of the nation’s top lawmakers.
However, these product managers were hardly any more forthcoming than their bosses. When asked, for example, how many people are actually working on issues like safety, privacy and moderation, they struggled to produce an answer. When asked how their work impacted national security, they were strangely silent. TikTok, for example, declined to speculate on how data from users might be shared with China, despite the fact that everyone knows by now that TikTok is owned by a Chinese company.
The bare minimum and nothing more
At times, it seemed like the Big Tech companies were simply giving U.S. senators the bare minimum, and nothing more. Efforts at content moderation, for example, were described by the lawmakers as being “patchy, uneven and reactive.” Efforts to moderate content outside of the English language appear to be practically non-existent, despite the fact that companies like Meta are global entities, with users all over the world. Shouldn’t they be doing more to moderate content outside of the English language?
Regulatory changes incoming
It has become increasingly clear that the Big Tech social media companies will only act if they are severely punished. Even a public reprimanding seems to be of no obvious value these days. So perhaps the best way to punish these Big Tech companies is by rolling out new regulatory changes. Silicon Valley social media players keep promising that they will change of their own volition, but they never do. So perhaps the only option left is for Washington politicians to force their hand by introducing new legislation and new regulatory frameworks.
Here we are in 2022, and it seems like the narrative has not changed at all. Clearly, the Big Tech giants are feeling pretty confident these days. They know that, whomever they send to Washington to answer questions, they will escape largely unscathed. Maybe it will take a large, epic scandal to make them change, something on the order of magnitude of a huge national security scandal involving China. Let’s hope that’s not the case.