June 25, 2020 — Algorithms utilized by platforms to keep users engaged are partially to blame for the heightened state of disinformation which poses a threat to the future of American democracy, argued members of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology and the Subcommittee on Consumer Protections and Commerce at a hearing Wednesday.
“While our nation has long been divided, the divisions in our country are growing,” said Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Penn. “Today we see that much of this division has been driven by misinformation distributed and amplified by social media companies, the largest among them being Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.”
Members blamed the explosion of disinformation on foreign and domestic opportunists aiming to divide people and weaken democracy, in their personal pursuit of power.
“This includes social media companies themselves, who have put profits before people and whose business models depend on the engaging and enraging,” Doyle said.
According to Hany Farid, a professor at the University of California Berkeley, a study revealed that those who primarily obtain news from social media believe 1.4 times more misinformation than others.
“Platforms don’t set out to fuel misinformation, hate, and divisiveness, but that’s what the algorithms have learned to push in their attempts to increase user engagement,” Farid said.
Algorithms put in place to fight for users’ attention have been found to confirm biases, feeding audiences what they already believe and want to hear.
“Every day social media platforms decide what is relevant by recommending it to their billions of users,” Farid said. “Social media companies have learned that outrageous, divisive, conspiratorial content increases engagement.”
Farid cited a study finding that 10 percent of YouTube-recommended videos contain conspiracy theories or falsities. This demonstrates how YouTube’s algorithm is directly responsible for furthering the spread of misinformation, he said.
“The core poison is the business model,” Farid continued. “They could change the algorithms and focus not all on profit. They could retrain the algorithm so trusted information is prioritized.”
“Content creators could simply decide that they value trusted information over untrusted information, respectful over hateful, and unifying over divisive,” he concluded.
Others claimed that Farid was overstating the ease of such a transition.
Calling for increased platform regulation is essentially asking companies to reduce their profits by altering their business models. The development of new AI technology poses an additional challenge.
Artificial intelligence that may more effectively assist in content moderation has yet to be developed, as companies have not prioritized it in the past.
Members warned that the use of AI is partially responsible for the current state of disinformation and that systems trained to identify hate speech may inadvertently amplify racial tensions.
Telecom, Online Marketplace Consumer Protection Bills Pass House Committee
Among the bills sent to the House, the committee passed two on telecom and one on consumer safety.
WASHINGTON, November 17, 2021 – The House Committee on Energy and Commerce passed several bills Wednesday, including two on telecom policy and one meant to address consumer safety when using online retailers.
H.R. 1218, the “Data Mapping to Save Moms’ Lives Act,” H.R. 2501, the “Spectrum Coordination Act,” and H.R. 5502, the “Integrity, Notification, and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces for Consumers Act” were all passed unopposed and without amendments.
H.R. 1218 is a bill intended to target broadband resources to areas where “telehealth may be useful in the monitoring and care of pregnant women,” bill co-sponsor Rep. G. K. Butterfield, D-North Carolina, said during the hearing, adding “it is a moral imperative to address the maternal mortality crisis in the United States.” The bill’s other sponsors are Reps. Lisa Rochester, D-Delaware, and Gus Bilirakis, R-Florida.
“To effectively deploy 21st Century resources to address the shocking rates of maternal mortality, the nation must first identify which communities lack adequate Internet access and have high maternal mortality rates. That is exactly what this bill seeks to do,” said Rochester.
H.R. 2501, which is sponsored by Bilirakis, requires the National Telecommunications and Information Administration – an agency of the Commerce Department – and the Federal Communications Commission to update the memorandum of understanding on spectrum coordination, to ensure that spectrum is shared efficiently, and that a process is created to better resolve frequency allocation disputes.
H.R. 5502, co-sponsored by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D- Illinois, takes aim at online retailers that do not take responsibility for the products that third-party groups sell on their marketplace. Legislators supporting this legislation asserted that this has allowed bad actors to sell unsafe, counterfeit, or otherwise fraudulent goods on common marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy.
“What we’re saying now is very simply that online marketplaces will have to verify that the identity of their higher volume sellers, so they have to take some responsibility,” said Schakowsky. “It’s not just about counterfeiters, it’s not just about defrauding – we are talking about danger every year around this time.”
“This legislation is really going to help the consumers and legitimate businesses that are selling products and becoming victims themselves.”
Amazon has been on the wrong end of state court rulings recently that have made it liable for defective products. Experts on a Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event in May remarked that this could open the floodgates for these types of lawsuits, a contrast to when Section 230 liability protections for platforms have historically been used as strong defenses for these platforms.
Now that these bills have passed their committee, they will be sent to the House to be considered. Should they successfully be passed in the House, they will be sent to the Senate and undergo a similar procedure; if the bills are successfully passed in both the House and Senate, they will then be sent to President Joe Biden’s desk, where he can decide whether to sign them into law.
House Commerce Committee Aligned on Telecom, Mapping and Supply Chain Security, Says Ranking Member
March 18, 2021 – House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, said Wednesday that the committee was among the most bipartisan on issues including telecom.
Rodgers, who was speaking at the Internet Innovation Alliance with co-chair Bruce Mehlman, said that her Republican colleagues have put forth 28 solutions that would remove regulatory barriers and streamline broadband processes yet demonstrate funding is being spent wisely. She called on the government to ensure cost-effective ways to spend federal dollars.
She said the committee’s priority must be on accurate broadband mapping. That requires funding for more granular data. She also argued for national security against China, including on solar and wind energy products.
Rodgers also said she was excited about low-earth orbit satellites and the potential future they bring in connecting parts of the country with internet that have been “economically unfeasible in the past.”
Asked of her thoughts on virtual learning from home, especially how her 14-year old son with down syndrome is faring, Rodgers said she was completely in favor of reopening schools safely because not all parents have the means to provide optimal learning spaces at home.
Calling herself a working mother who could afford to provide an assistant to help her son through his school day, Rodgers said it was not the best way to learn when compared to in-person schooling.
This came after she said the country has the best networks and “some of the fastest speeds at the lowest prices in the world for internet service.”
Emphasis on Combating COVID-19 and Rebuilding Infrastructure at First Energy and Commerce Meeting
January 28, 2021—During the first organizational meeting of the House Commerce Committee of the 117th Congress, Chairman Frank Pallone of New Jersey welcomed the newest members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The bulk of the Committee’s first meeting was dedicated to discussing best practices to reduce healthcare and prescription drug costs, rebuild and modernize the nation’s infrastructure, and combat climate change.
Members further discussed rebuilding and restoring the essential functions of key agencies. Strengthening the Center for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency were deemed essential. Members considered the waning of the two agencies to be at “the very heart” of creating some of the nation’s most pressing current legislative and policy issues.
Members also approved governing procedures and announce subcommittee chairs, ranking members, and other subcommittee assignments.
Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington is the new ranking member, and the first woman in that role for the committee.
Pallone further announced Democratic members joining the Committee, including Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York, known for her interest in climate change and infrastructure. Rep. Angie Craig, of Minnesota, was touted for work on the Affordable Care Act. Rep. Kim Schrier of Washington was recognized for her work as a pediatrician.
Rep. Lori Trahan of Massachusetts has an interested in the opioid pandemic and the environment. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher of Texas is focused on first responders and firefighting foams.
Pallone addressed members of the committee in the 117th Congress
Pallone thanked members and reiterated the need to enact policies to combat COVID-19 through vaccine distribution. He criticized former President Donald Trump for lacking effective implementation strategies to vaccinate more Americans sooner.
He said policies were needed that “provide critical assistance to struggling families, rebuild our economy, and bring an end to the pandemic, so people can begin to safely return to regular practice of life.”
Pallone praised President Joe Biden’s executive orders on vaccine distribution, expanded access to testing, and utilization of the Defense Production Act, which allows continued access to medical supplies and personal protective equipment for testing and vaccination.
The committee also took time to celebrate its own 225th birthday, which occurred last month. It is the oldest committee in the House.
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