Despite the many benefits of social media, it is increasingly alarmingly common to face challenges to internal security in the form of cyberterrorism, fraud, crime, the propagation of violence, etc.
On Wednesday, executives from four of the top social media companies testified before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, defending their platforms and previous breaches in security, privacy, and moderation.
This time, Congress successfully lured in a relatively fresh group of product-focused executives, including Chris Cox from Meta and TikTok COO Vanessa Pappas, who gave testimony before lawmakers for the first time. The session, which examined how social media may affect broader national security, covered a variety of subjects, including domestic extremism and misinformation as well as CSAM and China.
Even though they had been given the question prior to the hearing, each business declined to respond when committee chair Senator Gary Peters urged them to say how many workers they have working full-time on trust and security. The only numerical response was provided by Twitter’s managing director of consumer and revenue, Jay Sullivan, who stated that 2,200 workers work on trust and safety “on Twitter,” but it is unknown if these individuals also undertake other types of work.
It’s no secret that social media moderators are inconsistent, slow to respond, and uneven, in part because these platforms’ owners are reluctant to spend more on the personnel responsible for keeping users safe.
In another session yesterday, Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, a former Twitter security director who has since turned whistleblower, brought up the issue that half of the information highlighted for review on the network is in a language that the company does not permit. In spite of the fact that only 9% of platform users speak English, Frances Haugen, a Facebook whistleblower, has continuously drawn attention to this problem by pointing out that the company devotes 87% of its disinformation budget to English moderation.
The fact that Twitter’s Jay Sullivan decided not to publicly refute claims that the business “deliberately distorted” material provided to the FTC was another surprise. Sullivan responded to the testimony of the Twitter whistleblower on Tuesday by saying, “I can tell you that Twitter rejects the charges.”
“TikTok does not operate in China,” Pappas said more than once.
Pappas promptly followed his colleagues in his first appearance before Congress with TikTok, evading easy questions, delivering partial answers, and even refusing to accept TikTok’s well-documented ties to China. When Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) questioned Pappas on the location of TikTok’s Chinese parent firm, ByteDance, she uncomfortably evaded the topic, claiming that the company is spread out and does not have a headquarters. Under oath, Pappas also emphatically rejected BuzzFeed’s stunning reports that China-based ByteDance employees routinely accessed private data about US TikTok users, despite the fact that these reports are based on audio leaks.
Additionally, Portman’s demand that TikTok stop giving user data to any employees based in China, including those at ByteDance, was denied by the company’s leadership. Pappas asserted that they would “never” give user information to the Chinese government, even though she did not speak for TikTok’s parent company.
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