Only hours after gaining full control of Congress, House Democrats are going after Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube for the platforms’ perceived roles in inciting violence at the Capitol earlier this month.
In letters addressed to the chief executives of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), along with dozens of other members, called for the companies to make sweeping changes to their platforms to curb violent and extremist activity on their networks.
The lawmakers accused the companies of using certain product features and algorithms that boost content that evokes extreme emotions as a means of increasing engagement, pointing out specific features they want to see changed on each platform. For YouTube, lawmakers said they would like to see the company disable auto-play and stop recommending any conspiratorial content alongside videos or on users’ homepages. Facebook was asked to start a “fundamental reexamination” of its use of user engagement “as the basis of algorithmic sorting and recommendation.” Lawmakers also asked Twitter to begin prompting users to quote-tweet tweets instead of automatically retweeting them when the retweet button is selected.
“The horrific damage to our democracy wrought on January 6th demonstrated how these social media platforms played a role in radicalizing and emboldening terrorists to attack our Capitol,” Eshoo said in a statement Thursday. “These American companies must fundamentally rethink algorithmic systems that are at odds with democracy.”
Facebook and YouTube declined to comment. A Twitter spokesperson said they had received the letter and planned to respond.
Earlier Thursday, House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) called on FBI Director Chris Wray to open an investigation into Parler, a conservative-leaning Twitter dupe, following the pro-Trump Capitol attack.
Maloney said that the House Oversight Committee would begin its own probe into Parler and other social media websites like it. In an interview with The Washington Post, Maloney said, “I am going to get to the bottom of who owns and funds social media platforms like Parler that condone and create violence.”
Updated 1/21/21 at 6:03PM ET: Included statement from Twitter.
Updated 1/21/21 at 7:47PM ET: Updated to include that Facebook and YouTube declined to comment.