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Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter were grilled by lawmakers about terrorist content on social media

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Representatives for Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter faced questions from lawmakers today about how terrorist content is detected and removed from the internet.

The hearing, in front of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, was the latest moment of high-profile government scrutiny for Big Tech. “The companies that our witnesses represent have a very difficult task: preserving the environment of openness upon on which their platforms have thrived, while seeking to responsibly manage and thwart the actions of those who would use their services for evil,” Committee Chairman Sen. John Thune (R-SD) said in an opening statement.

Much of the testimony focused on how the companies use artificial intelligence to detect and remove terrorist content. Facebook’s head of product policy and counterterrorism Monika Bickert said that the company is able to automatically remove 99 percent of ISIS and Al Qaeda content before it’s flagged, although she admitted that humans were still necessary to detect nuances in who shared the content. YouTube and Twitter also trumpeted some of their successes with machine detection.

Still, the companies did not escape tough questions from some members of the committee. Thune asked YouTube about a how-to bomb-making video, which had reportedly been re-uploaded several times. “How is it possible for that to happen?” he asked, as YouTube responded that it had been able to take down the re-uploads quickly. Sen. Wicker (R-MS) pushed Twitter on its position not to cooperate with providing data to law enforcement for surveillance operation, a position that the company defended.

Multiple lawmakers asked about white supremacist content. “We don’t allow any violent organization, regardless of ideology,” Facebook’s Bickert said in response to a question on the topic.

But the hearing quickly moved to broader issues, veering into larger questions about the companies’ responsibilities to the public. Several senators used the opportunity to question the representatives about Russian misinformation campaigns, and again, the representatives said they have made progress in preventing future efforts. Twitter said it was exploring ways to alert users who may have been affected by misinformation during the 2016 presidential election.

“How can we know that you’re going to get this right, and before the midterms?” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) asked.

“We think we’re better prepared for this election than we’ve ever been,” Twitter director of public policy and philanthropy Carlos Monje responded.