Zuckerberg and Dorsey defend crackdown on Donald Trump’s election fraud claims

Jack Dorsey testifying remotely via videoconference during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing

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Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey have defended their treatment of President Donald Trump and his supporters after imposing sweeping sanctions on election misinformation and allegations of voter fraud.

In prepared testimony to the US Congress on Tuesday, the two tech bosses insisted that they had acted with the backing of the American public and without political bias.

Mr Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, proudly listed his company’s moves to squash false claims about the voting system and put warning labels on posts disputing the results, which he said had been enforced "fairly and consistently".

Mr Dorsey, who runs Twitter, went further, saying that its decision to censor a negative New York Post story about President-elect Joe Biden and his son Hunter – which was the original spark for this hearing – had been taken in line with US government advice.

Despite those actions, both men urged Congress to reform but not revoke the law that shields American social networks from liability by defining them as information carriers rather than news publishers.

It comes after Facebook and Twitter’s unprecedented crackdown on fake news and incitement led them to repeatedly impose warning labels on Mr Trump’s false declarations of victory, as well as banning supporters who called for violence.

Mr Dorsey said: "We applied labels to add context and limit the risk of harmful election misinformation spreading without important context because the public told us they wanted us to take these steps.

"We ensure that all decisions are made without using political viewpoints, party affiliation, or political ideology, whether related to automatically ranking content on our service or how we develop or enforce the Twitter rules.

"Our rules are not based on ideology or a particular set of beliefs. We believe strongly in being impartial, and we strive to enforce [them] fairly."

Mr Zuckerberg said: "People tell us they don’t want to see misinformation on Facebook, and neither do we… we took our responsibility for protecting the integrity of this election seriously. 

"We followed the policies and processes that we laid out in advance to protect the democratic process in both the pre- and post-election period, and we worked hard to apply those policies fairly and consistently."

The 36-year-old founder also cited his company’s giant voter registration drive, which he said had signed up 4.5m people. 

Silicon Valley has been criticised across the political spectrum for the way that its algorithms and content moderation decisions shape public debate. Both Mr Trump and Mr Biden have called for social networks’ exemption from liability to be scrapped or restricted.

On Monday, former president Barack Obama said in an interview that new regulations were needed, arguing: "They are making editorial choices, whether they’ve buried them in algorithms or not."

Tuesday’s hearing, hosted by the Senate justice committee, was originally called to examine Facebook and Twitter’s reaction to a New York Post scoop making fresh allegations about Mr Biden’s connections to his son’s foreign business dealings.

The story was heavily pushed by the Trump campaign but treated sceptically by rival outlets and experts in Russian influence operations, leading Facebook to reduce its prominence in users’ news feeds until it could be fact-checked.

Twitter said it suspected the story contained "hacked materials" and blocked users from sharing it, as well as locking the New York Post’s account. After criticism, the company loosened its policy and retroactively cleared the Post. 

Mr Dorsey said: "This policy was informed by conversations with the US government about… the use of hacked materials or materials of dubious origin being used to manipulate the electorate and influence the outcome of an election. 

"While we may have taken longer than some would have wanted to [reverse its decision], we believe that this process and associated review have helped us create strong and more transparent policies."

That storm, however, has been largely overtaken by the reaction to President Trump’s refusal to concede the election, and his largely unsubstantiated accusations of a conspiracy to rig the vote.

Mr Trump’s claims have been rejected by US judges, Republican state ministers and some of his own officials, while his lawyers have frequently declined to back them in open court. Other prominent Republicans have lent them credence, including Senate committee chairman Lindsay Graham.

On social media, Mr Trump’s grassroots supporters have spread conspiracy theories about secret CIA hacking operations and plots to invalidate their ballots by tricking them into using permanent marker pens.

That led Facebook last week to shut down a pro-Trump "Stop the Steal" group with more than 300,000 users, which the company said had begun filling with calls for violence. It later blocked related hashtags from search results in order to stymie copycat groups.

Twitter also labelled some posts by Democratic politicians, including the speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. Facebook attached labels noting the current state of the results to both Mr Biden and Mr Trump universally.

Just before the hearing, Republican senator Josh Hawley said he had heard from a whistleblower that Facebook, Twitter and Google had "coordinated" their censorship of Mr Trump. The three companies are known to share information about potential security threats and influence campaigns.

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