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Twitter CEO tells House the company isn’t biased, wants healthy debate

In prepared testimony released ahead of a House hearing Wednesday, Jack Dorsey says he wants to be clear about one thing: ‘‘Twitter does not use political ideology to make any decisions, whether related to ranking content on our service or how we enforce our rules.’’
In prepared testimony released ahead of a House hearing Wednesday, Jack Dorsey says he wants to be clear about one thing: ‘‘Twitter does not use political ideology to make any decisions, whether related to ranking content on our service or how we enforce our rules.’’(Richard Drew/Associated Press/File 2015)

WASHINGTON — Twitter’s CEO says the company is not biased against Republicans or Democrats and is working on ways to ensure that debate is healthier on its platform.

In prepared testimony released ahead of a House hearing Wednesday, Jack Dorsey says he wants to be clear about one thing: ‘‘Twitter does not use political ideology to make any decisions, whether related to ranking content on our service or how we enforce our rules.’’

The testimony comes as some Republicans say conservatives have been censored on social media and have questioned the platform’s algorithms. Dorsey will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday afternoon on that subject, following a morning hearing in the Senate Intelligence Committee on Russian interference on social media.

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Dorsey says in the House testimony that the company has continued to identify accounts that may be linked to a Russian internet agency that was indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller earlier this year. The indictment detailed an elaborate plot by Russian intelligence officers to disrupt the 2016 U.S. presidential election, charging several people associated with the Internet Research Agency with running a huge but hidden social media trolling campaign aimed in part at helping Republican Donald Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Dorsey says in the testimony that Twitter has so far suspended 3,843 accounts the company believes are linked to the agency and has seen recent activity.

‘‘These accounts used false identities purporting to be Americans, and created personas focused on divisive social and political issues,’’ Dorsey said.

To address concerns about bias, Dorsey offered an explanation of how Twitter uses ‘‘behavioral signals,’’ such as the way accounts interact and behave on the service. Those signals can help weed out spam and abuse.

He said such behavioral analysis ‘‘does not consider in any way’’ political views or ideology.

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Dorsey said the San Francisco-based company is also ‘‘committed to help increase the collective health, openness, and civility of public conversation, and to hold ourselves publicly accountable towards progress.’’

Meanwhile, Alphabet Inc.’s Google posted what it called “testimony” for a congressional hearing on social media companies’ efforts to thwart election meddling in advance of November’s midterm races -- only it doesn’t appear anyone will be there to deliver it.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has said it rejected Google Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker as a witness because he wasn’t high-level enough in the company to testify at a hearing Wednesday that will hear from Dorsey, of Twitter, and Facebook Inc. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Walker’s prepared testimony lists the four new types of disclosure the company promised concerning election advertising in his last congressional appearance in the fall of 2017. Those include databases listing election ads on Google search, YouTube and across the web, as well as a verification program and disclosures on political ads.

Google has insisted that Alphabet CEO Larry Page and Google CEO Sundar Pichai wouldn’t be the best officials to appear despite the Intelligence committee’s desire to hear from decision-makers.

The result appears to be a stalemate -- and testimony that no one will deliver. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have increased pressure on technology companies on that and other election meddling as well as other issues including alleged anti-conservative bias and antitrust questions.

Google said in a statement that Walker will be in Washington on Wednesday, “where he will deliver written testimony, brief members of Congress on our work, and answer any questions they have.”

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“We had informed the Senate Intelligence Committee of this in late July and had understood that he would be an appropriate witness for this hearing,” Google said.

In the testimony, Walker also focuses on security measures that the company rolled out in the past year, such as a tool to prevent email phishing scams and a program, from the Alphabet unit Jigsaw, to protect political campaigns from adversarial cyber-attacks.

Walker has assumed increasing responsibility at Google, where the lawyer oversees the company’s sprawling legal and policy efforts. Earlier this summer, Google promoted Walker to oversee a larger portfolio, including the units that monitor security and abuse on its services, what Google calls “trust and safety.”

Walker’s ascent came under the tenure of CEO Pichai, who has focused more on Google products and shied away from addressing political issues. Eric Schmidt, Google’s former CEO and chairman, was far more willing to be the company’s political ambassador. He previously testified before the committee. Schmidt stepped down from his role as chair of Google parent Alphabet last year.


Material from Bloomberg was used in this report.