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Yesterday Twitter CEO @Jack Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg went to the Hill to get chewed up and crapped out by politicos and swamp monsters. Considering this is the 300th time Congress has dragged Silicon Valley before the lukewarm lights and cameras of C-SPAN (not the 300th time, but close!), you'd be SHOCKED to see things quickly devolve into technobabble, posturing, and shrugs. On the bright side, several members of Congress now know the internet is not just a series of tubes.

Heading into the hearings, both Twitter and Facebook launched their own preemptive PR blitzes to stave off negative press coverage. Mark Zuckerberg penned some bogus essay for WaPo that was his usual fart sniffing and gaslighting. Dorsey and his legal/policy chief, Vijaya Gadde, told Politico that Trump was not immune from Twitter's shiny new ban hammer, and shot down conservative claims of bias. Google and/or Alphabet CEOs Sundar Pichai and Larry Page were expected to attend, but they declined Congress's invitation for a public flogging.


The Senate hearing with Sandberg and Dorsey went about as you'd expect: A polished Sandberg fell back on years of experience in business and government, and frumpish Dorsey stammered his way through an opening statement that he simultaneously live tweeted on his phone.

With the Senate hearing focusing on Not American election- and mental fuckery, both Sandberg and Dorsey apologized for not noticing what Russia was doing in 2016, and admitted that they'd found other US adversaries attempting copycat-style attacks. Sandberg, as "queen of the polished, noncommittal soundbite," was able to parry most questions with vague answers about new safeguards, or offering to "follow-up at a later date." @Jack just kept apologizing like a Canadian in a three-car pile-up. It was all remarkably unremarkable until Sen. Kamala Harris ran over from the Kavanaugh hearings to blindside Sandberg about Facebook's ad revenue.

Harris, having been blown off by Facebook's lawyers and Mark Zuckerberg, wanted to know many rubles Facebook was making from fake Russian accounts. Sandberg began rambling about "inauthentic content" and "inorganic content," and said that the amount is "immaterial." Sandberg noted that pictures of Putin majestically riding horses only make up about .004 percent the junk you see on Facebook's, the rest is just ugly baby pictures, circlejerking, and shitposting from drunk uncles. Harris waved away the smoke Sandberg was trying to blow up her ass and demanded to know what the hell any of that even meant.

HARRIS: Are you saying that the revenue generated was .004% of your annual revenue? Because, of course, that would not be immaterial.

SANDBERG: So - So - Again, the ads are not attached to any piece of content --

HARRIS: So what's this metric then? If you could just help me with that. What metric are you using to calculate the revenue that was generated associated with those ads, and what is the dollar amount that is associated with that metric.

SANDBERG: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Harris wasn't done yet though. She pointed out how Facebook has been raking in profits while its platform pushes hate speech, even if it says it doesn't allow hate speech. Harris brought up a 2017 ProPublica story about Facebook deleting hate speech targeting white men and not black children because little black boys and girls aren't a "protected class." Flummoxed, Sandberg said they changed the policy.

HARRIS: Was the policy changed after that report? Or before that report from ProPublica?

SANDBERG: I can get back to you on the specifics of when that would have happened.

HARRIS: You're not aware of when it happened?

SANDBERG: I don't remember the exact date.

HARRIS: Do you remember the year?

SANDBERG: Well you just said it was 2017.

HARRIS: So do you believe it was 2017 when the policy changed?

SANDBERG: Sounds like it was.

The rest of the Senate hearing was mostly people yelling at Dorsey, and Dorsey apologizing for being such a screw up. Joe Manchin all but called both Sandberg and Dorsey drug dealers for allowing people to sell hillbilly heroin on social media; despite the irony in Manchin defending gun stores (oh, and his daughter) for doing the exact same thing, both Sandberg and Dorsey demurred and promised to get back to him. Dorsey did have one bright moment when he made Tom Cotton look like A Idiot after Cotton damn near made Dorsey recite the Pledge of Allegiance during some rant about 'Murica.

If all politics is theatre, then the House hearing was less organized than a gaggle of 4-year-olds performing Hamlet. Republicans complained about a liberal plot to brainwash the children, while Democrats reminded everyone of Nazis, bullying, and Alex Jones, and then waved around a the list of crimes they intend to investigate after they retake the House in November. At one point "alt-right" dingbat Laura Loomer stood up and started shouting incoherently that @Jack was censoring conservative speech, but she was hilariously drowned out by Republican Rep. Billy Long who launched into an auctioneer voice until she was thrown out.

A number of Republican House members echoed Loomer's claim, that Twitter was shadow-banning conservatives and pushing more "liberal content." Steve Scalise used his four minutes of fame to ask why Rep. Marsha Blackburn was kicked off Twitter for violating Twitter's terms of service when she began peddling conspiracy theories about Planned Parenthood. The rest asked the same idiotic questions about verification badges, and how to know if you've been banned or blocked (over, and over, and over...).

One notable highlight belongs to Rep. Debbie Dingell, who asked a number of specific questions about Twitter's artificial intelligence, leaving Dorsey to pick his jaw up off the floor.

At the end, these hearings were just another shitshow for Republicans to use as fodder for their base. It allows them to make speeches and ads that make it seem like they're doing their jobs before the midterms. They can even sob with Hannity about "liberal bias" when they can't find pictures of Kim Kardashian or Taylor Swift late at night. Dorsey was able to walk away looking like a more competent leader, despite his hesitancy to hit Nazis with his ban hammer, while Sandberg walked away with only a minor flesh wound (thanks, Kamala). Though nobody learned a damn thing (as usual), Rep. Walden did announce at the end of the hearing that pill-pushing Twitter accounts had been knocked offline, so we guess that's nice.

[TechCrunch / ReCode / The Verge / Politico]

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Dominic Gwinn

Dominic is a broke journalist in Chicago. You can find him in a dirty bar talking to weirdos, or in a gutter taking photos.

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