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Photo: Eric Kayne (SumOfUS) (AP)

Midway through a congressional hearing Thursday in which U.S. lawmakers spent hours interrogating the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook, and Google for their role in Americas disinformation crisis, Jack Dorsey seemed fed up.

The hearing, which was held via video conference and led by Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, saw lawmakers insist on straight answers from techs titansoften demanding that the executives respond to their questions in simple yes or no answers. Would Facebook admit that it had played a role in radicalizing the participants of the Jan. 6th insurrectionyes or no?! Would Google be willing to overhaul YouTubes word recommendation engine to correct radicalizing search patterns: yay or nay? Wont Twitter commit to taking down all covid-related misinformation on its platform?

This little routine culminated with one particular dressing down by Rep. Billy Long, who asked the executives whether they knew the difference between the word yes and no? Shortly afterward, Dorsey appeared to mock legislators by merely tweeting the following:

This tweet perfectly encapsulates how the hearing wentand how all hearings like this tend to go: Congress can yell at Big Tech all it wants, but until our government actually passes regulatory reform with teeth, the best were going to get from these guys is the occasional smart-ass tweet.

Yes, it seems like way too often now that Congress drags Dorsey, Facebooks Zuckerberg, and Googles Sundar Pichai away from their cloistered mansions to yell at them and ask why they are playing such a big role in the epidemic of online misinformation and propaganda sweeping the country. But this kind of political theaterapparently designed for the publics benefit (despite how amazingly boring each and every hyped-up hearing is)never gets us anywhere because, after the yelling stops, no new meaningful, passable, not-disastrous-in-its-own-way regulations ever emerge.

Some commentators are saying that this time its different. The Jan. 6th Capitol riotand the obvious role big tech platforms played in catalyzing ithas brought the level of alarm and outrage over social media companies to a boiling point. And, indeed, some congressional committees have been talking about regulationsthough the polarization spurred by these very platforms has, ironically, made it difficult for any sort of bipartisan consensus to emerge.

Throughout all this, a question has emerged: Why do we need to have these hearings at all? Shouldnt Congress just be talking to each other about the best way to handle this legislatively, instead of yelling at large companies for not self-regulating better (something big companies typically dont do very well)?

One other major reason our elected officials may prefer this now regular Punch-and-Judy show to anything resembling real reform is that, despite Big Techs noxious effect on the nation as a whole, these companies certainly do know how to write a fat check. Since 2005, more than half a billion dollars has gone from the top five biggest tech companies towards various lobbying efforts. A recent report from Public Citizen showed that Big Tech has effectively eclipsed yesterdays big lobbying spenders, Big Oil and Big Tobacco. True to corporate Americas playbook, the biggest tech firms give generously to both political parties and try to spread the money around equally, when they can.

Meanwhile, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle get to act tough in front of Mark Zuckerberg. Then they can send their constituents donation requests alongside claims that theyre cracking down on Big Tech rather than just talking.

For everyones sake, lets skip the next four-hour verbal assault on Zuck, Jack, and Sundar and, instead, get together and do that thing lawmakers are supposed to do: pass some laws. What say ye, Congress? Y or N?



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