But they notched a partial victory in a private meeting with YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki on Thursday, where lawmakers said the mogul pledged to finally give them some answers about an issue the caucus considers a major priority.
The group has grown vocal in expressing concern about the spread of Spanish-language misinformation among Latinos, who use social media at higher rates than the general population and have grown more reliant on the networks amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The session, attended by at least a dozen members, came months after the group demanded a face-to-face meeting with top tech executives to air those concerns. For Wojcicki, it also marks a rare swing through Capitol Hill, where she’s never testified, unlike many rival CEOs.
Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), who chairs the caucus, called Wojcicki’s willingness to appear in person “a very good faith act and a demonstration that she's willing to answer our questions.”
He said the YouTube chief pledged to provide lawmakers with more detailed information about how it deploys resources to deal with misinformation in Spanish, and to expand efforts to ensure “parity” in how the platform moderates non-English content.
Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) said Wojcicki committed to “releasing core internal accountability metrics,” including data on how frequently users view Spanish-language content that breaks YouTube’s rules. “That’s a good start,” said Luján, who had called on the company to disclose the metric at an October hearing, to no avail.
But they are still waiting for the company to back up their words. “We are not going to let this go until we see the level of actions that it is warranted, in terms of the resources, in terms of content, in terms of the metrics that they use,” Ruiz said during an interview Thursday.
YouTube spokesperson Elena Hernandez said in a statement that the company “had a productive meeting today with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, where we shared the work we do at YouTube to combat harmful misinformation in Spanish.”
Hernandez says YouTube has over 20,000 people globally who review content for the site, “including many with Spanish-language expertise,” but declined to say how many exactly.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who also attended, said YouTube has approached Spanish-language misinformation as a “generic” issue and that it needs to “define a greater sense of how they specifically deal with Hispanic disinformation.”
“I don’t think that meets the bill,” he said of the company’s strategy.
While in town, Wojcicki also met with Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to a spokesperson.
Warner “pressed Ms. Wojcicki on the need to take more consistent and proactive action and provide data to qualified independent researchers,” his spokesperson Valeria Rivadeneira said.
The caucus has also called for meetings with the CEOs of Facebook parent company Meta, Twitter and TikTok to discuss Spanish misinformation. All of the companies confirmed plans to meet with the group, but none committed to sending CEOs.
Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, Twitter’s head of public policy and philanthropy for the Americas, and a member of Twitter's safety team is slated to meet with the caucus, Twitter spokesperson Trenton Kennedy said. For TikTok, head of safety Eric Han and U.S. public policy chief Michael Beckerman will huddle with the group, spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said. Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said the company is in touch with the caucus about a meeting with an executive.
Twitter has recently been rocked by tech mogul Elon Musk’s deal to buy the platform, news that prompted concerns from Democratic lawmakers that the site might backslide in its efforts to curb misinformation.
Ruiz said no matter who owns Twitter, they’ll be holding their feet to the fire all the same. “Whether it's Elon Musk or anybody else, we're going to continue to press for the same metrics and transparency and accountability and expect results,” he said.
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Republican lawmakers slam DHS’s new disinformation board
The Disinformation Governance Board will focus on disinformation spread by human smugglers and will support an effort to “monitor and prepare for potential disinformation threats to U.S. critical infrastructure” like pipelines and hospitals in the wake of the war between Russia and Ukraine, DHS spokeswoman Sarah Peck said.
But congressional Republicans lashed out at the notion of a government body acting as the arbiter of truth. Many called it an Orwellian overreach and tried to discredit its executive director, disinformation expert Nina Jankowicz. DHS declined to make Jankowicz available for an interview.
- Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s top Republican, said he was “deeply concerned” by the board and plans to question Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas about it at a hearing next week.
- Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called the board an “official Soviet-style censorship agency.”
- Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) sent Mayorkas a letter arguing that the board is “almost certainly unconstitutional and should be dissolved immediately.”
- Even Tesla CEO Musk, who recently bought Twitter, called it “discomforting.”
While controversial, DHS has long been involved in tackling the spread of untrue claims. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has a team “charged with building national resilience” to misinformation and disinformation, including by educating Americans on disinformation targeting elections. It even used a site called “Rumor Control” to fact-check claims about elections, which President Donald Trump fired CISA director Chris Krebs over in 2020.
Cryptocurrency advocates would get preferred federal regulator with new bill
The new, bipartisan bill would give the industry a victory by handing authority to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Tory Newmyer reports. The CFTC is seen by the industry as a more friendly regulator to the cryptocurrency industry than the Securities and Exchange Commission, whose chairman, Gary Gensler, has described the industry as being rife with scams.
Industry groups applauded the bill, called the Digital Commodity Exchange Act. “There is a growing consensus in Washington that federal oversight of digital asset spot markets is needed, and we believe that the [bill] sets forward an intelligent framework to ensure these markets are safe and secure,” the Blockchain Association said in a statement.
The FTC is looking into how Musk reported his stake in Twitter
The Federal Trade Commission is examining whether Musk sought to influence Twitter’s management when he initially bought 9 percent of the company’s shares, the Information’s Josh Sisco and Jessica Toonkel report. Musk initially reported the stake as a passive investment, which raised questions because he has publicly commented about how he believes the company should be run. A day later, he dropped the passive designation in another filing.
“In its investigation the FTC is looking to examine the communications between Musk and Twitter’s board as he accumulated his stake to determine whether he wanted to have an active role in the company,” Sisco and Toonkel write. “If the FTC determines that Musk was investing in Twitter to influence decisions at the company, he could be penalized for not notifying antitrust regulators about his initial Twitter investment.”
If the FTC finds that Musk broke reporting rules, it could fine the billionaire several millions of dollars. Authorities can also seek court orders for unspecified penalties. The FTC or Justice Department will look at Musk’s acquisition of Twitter for antitrust issues, though they probably won’t find any significant problems, Sisco and Toonkel report.
Rant and rave
Trump has begun posting on his social media network, Truth Social, posting a “Truth” that alluded to a 2017 tweet that immediately became a joke. The New York Times's Kenneth P. Vogel:
The Financial Times's Nikou Asgari:
Bloomberg News's William Turton:
Inside the industry
- CrowdTangle founder Brandon Silverman and other experts testify at a Senate Judiciary Committee panel’s hearing on platform transparency Wednesday at 2 p.m.
- Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testifies before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. Republicans are expected to press Mayorkas on DHS’s Disinformation Governance Board.
- The Senate Budget Committee holds a hearing on whether companies that violate labor laws should get federal contracts on Thursday at 11 a.m.