Sen. Hawley: Social Media Coordinate Censorship Efforts

Screenshot of Josh Hawley
(Image credit: Future)

Saying he had talked with a Facebook whistle-blower and armed with visual aids, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) took to a virtual hearing stage Tuesday (Nov. 17) to grill Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on allegations that Twitter, Google and Facebook coordinated their content moderation in deciding what content to suppress.

That came at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled "Breaking the News: Censorship, Suppression, and the 2020 Election."

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Hawley said he had been contacted by a Facebook whistle-blower with direct knowledge of the company's content-moderation practices who talked about an internal platform called "tasks."

Hawley said he understood that Facebook used the platform to "coordinate projects including censorship" by discussing, including with the other platforms, which individuals or hashtags or web sites to ban.

Zuckerberg said the "tasks" system to coordinate all kinds of work across the country, though he said he did not necessarily agree with the characterization "around content moderation."

Hawley showed a screen shot of the task platform, which he said included "censorship input" form Google and Twitter.

Using it as an "aha" moment, Hawley said that as he understood it, "Facebook censorship teams communicate with their counterparts and Google and Twitter and enter those companies' suggestions onto the tasks platform so that Facebook could follow up and essentially coordinate their censorship efforts."

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He asked Zuckerberg, "under oath," whether Facebook coordinated its content moderation policies or efforts in any way with Google or Twitter."

Zuckerberg said they "do coordinate and share signals" around security issues, like a terrorist attack or child exploitation imagery or a foreign government influence operation. "That is an area where companies do share signals about what they see."

But he said that was distinct from the content-moderation policies we or the other companies have." He said each company makes its own decision about how to deal with that information.

Hawley pressed him on whether Facebook coordinated content moderation policies with Google or Twitter.

Zuckerberg said no, they do not coordinate, though he conceded "some level of communications probably happens," but that is different from coordinating. Hawley shot back that he had "clear evidence" of such coordination, which he called "unacceptable but predictable."

Zuckerberg said they share signals around specific harms, but that each company deals with those signals in line with their own policies, which is different from coordinating about what the policies should be.

Hawley was followed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) who said she, for one, could understand why Facebook would coordinate with other platforms for security reasons.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.