Representatives from Facebook and Twitter took questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, at a hearing focused on the social media company’s political influence and management of user data, according to the Los Angeles Times. However, Google declined to send a high-level executive to sit alongside Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey.
Their decision was not well-received by legislators. Senator Marco Rubio commented to Sandberg and Dorsey:
“There’s an empty chair next to you from Google and they’re not here today, and maybe it’s because they’re arrogant.”
Google’s chief executive Larry Page had been invited to attend, but Google instead offered to send its chief legal officer. The committee rejected that offer, and the company submitted written testimony instead. Legislators had planned to question Google over reports that the company was planning to offer a censored version of its search engine for China, and on Youtube’s vulnerability to foreign manipulation.
In general, tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google have come under heavy scrutiny in recent months, following Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal earlier this year and apparent foreign attempts to influence the 2016 election two years earlier.
“The era of the Wild West in social media is coming to an end,” according to Democratic senator Mark Warner. He noted that the “size and reach of your platforms demand that we, as policymakers, do our job, to ensure proper oversight, transparency and protections for American users and for our democratic institutions.”
It’s not yet clear whether the scrutiny from officials will materialize into further regulations on these companies, but the value of Twitter’s shares dropped 6 percent on Wednesday, while Facebook’s dropped 2.3 percent.
Additionally, the Justice Department will meet with state attorneys general on September 25th “to discuss a growing concern that these companies may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms,” according to a Justice Department spokesman.
The platforms, and Twitter in particular, have been accused of promoting liberal ideas over conservative ones. Later on Wednesday, Dorsey took questions from the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“I want to start by making something clear: We don’t consider political viewpoints, perspectives, or party affiliation in any of our policies or enforcement decisions,” said Dorsey, adding that “Impartiality is our guiding principle.”
He admitted, however:
“Recently we failed our intended impartiality. Our algorithms were unfairly filtering 600,000 accounts, including some members of Congress, from our search auto-complete and latest results. We fixed it.”
President Trump had, without referring to evidence, said the platforms were interfering in the upcoming midterm elections, saying social media companies are “super liberal.”