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Facebook and Twitter executives to testify to Congress next week

Representatives of tech giants Twitter and Facebook are slated to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee next week. NICOLAS ASFOURI, LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images (NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey are set to face a fresh grilling on Capitol Hill next week as lawmakers probe Silicon Valley’s efforts to police content online, from political speech to suspected Russian propaganda.

The Senate Intelligence Committee said Wednesday that it would hold a hearing next week with the two tech giants focused on “social media companies’ responses to foreign influence operations.” Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, and Dorsey, the chief executive of Twitter, are slated to join the Sept. 5 session, and Google has been invited. But lawmakers so far have rejected Google’s offer to send a lower-level executive, and the search giant has not committed to sending Larry Page, chief executive of parent company Alphabet, to testify.

The Senate’s hearing comes almost a year after Democrats and Republicans on the panel criticized the three tech giants for failing to spot and thwart what they said were Kremlin-aligned agents who purchased ads and posted content on social media that sought to create political unrest ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

House lawmakers said they plan to convene their own hearing on the same day, focused explicitly on Twitter and featuring Dorsey as the sole witness, the Energy and Commerce Committee announced Wednesday. Their effort comes at the request of conservative leaders who have alleged for months that Twitter’s algorithm and content-moderation policies unfairly target right-leaning users and websites. On Wednesday, President Trump again attacked tech companies for what he contends is the censorship of conservative views.

Both hearings illustrate Silicon Valley’s increasingly precarious political fortunes in the nation’s capital, where Democrats and Republicans alike have threatened to penalize tech giants that don’t take down offensive, harmful or misleading content more quickly.

With the 2018 midterms less than three months away, lawmakers remain concerned that Facebook, Google and Twitter still could be exploited to spread disinformation that can reach millions of unsuspecting Americans. In July, Facebook reported that it had disabled 32 pages and profiles that some members of Congress later tied to Russia. The creators behind those accounts appeared to use new, sophisticated tactics to set them up and conceal their identities, and some even successfully drove thousands of Americans to appear at protests of President Trump’s policies.

Since last year, Facebook, Google and Twitter each has announced new rules designed to combat Russia’s online efforts — including requirements for those who purchase political ads. Those companies also have adopted a more aggressive approach to reviewing other photos, videos, posts, tweets and ads for hate speech, discrimination, harassment and threats of violence. All three took action in August against the conspiracy theory site Infowars, for example, for violating various policies against abuse.

In taking a more hands-on role, however, some tech giants have had to battle back accusations of censorship. The House’s hearing explicitly came at the direction of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who has issued fundraising pitches on social media that slam Silicon Valley for bias.