WASHINGTON — Today, at a Senate Commerce Committee Hearing with CEOs from Google, Facebook, and Twitter, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) highlighted the urgent need to combat misinformation and improve the transparency of online political advertising and competition.
“I want to note first that this hearing comes six days before Election Day, and I believe we are politicizing and the Republican majority is politicizing what should actually not be a non-partisan topic, and I do want to thank the witnesses here for appearing, but also for the work that they are doing to try and encourage voting and to put out the correct information when the president and others are undermining vote by mail - something we are doing in every state of the country right now,” Klobuchar said in her opening remarks.
“Second point, Republicans failed to pass my bipartisan Honest Ads Act and the White House blatantly blocked the bipartisan election security bill that I had with Senator Lankford, as well as several other Republicans, and it is one of the reasons I think we need a new president.
“Third, my Republican colleagues in the Senate, many of them I work with very well on this committee, but we have had four years to do something when it comes to antitrust, privacy, local news -- a subject that briefly came up -- and so many other things. I will use my time to focus on what I consider, in Justice Ginsburg’s words, a blueprint for the future.”
In her exchange with Mark Zuckerberg, Klobuchar highlighted divisive content on Facebook:
KLOBUCHAR: “I know there has been a recent study that shows that part of your algorithm that push people towards more polarized content, left, right, whatever. In fact, one of your researchers warned senior executives that “our algorithms exploit human brain's attraction to divisiveness.” The way I look at it - more divisiveness, more time on the platform, the company makes more money…”
Transcript of full remarks and questions below and video HERE.
In her role as a senior Member of the Senate Commerce Committee and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights Klobuchar has been a leader in the fight to protect consumers’ personal data, stop the spread of misinformation, and promote online competition.
And as the Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee, with oversight over federal elections, Klobuchar has fought to improve the transparency of online political advertising, stop foreign interference in elections through online platforms, and combat the spread of online election related disinformation and voter intimidation and suppression.
In September, Klobuchar, along with 16 colleagues sent a letter to Facebook, Instagram, Google, Twitter and YouTube, urging executives to take further measures to stop voting related misinformation and disinformation.
Klobuchar leads the Honest Ads Act, which was reintroduced in 2019 with cosponsors Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) to help prevent foreign interference in future elections and improve the transparency of online political advertisements. The Honest Ads Act would prevent foreign actors from influencing our elections by ensuring that political ads sold online are covered by the same rules as ads sold on TV, radio, and satellite and by improving disclosure requirements.
In August, at an Antitrust Subcommittee hearing on Google’s dominance in advertising technology markets, Klobuchar emphasized the need to enforce antitrust Laws.
Transcript from Klobuchar questions on October 28th:
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you, Chairman. I want to note first that this hearing comes six days before Election Day, and I believe we are politicizing and the Republican majority is politicizing what should actually not be a partisan topic, and I do want to thank the witnesses here for appearing, but also for the work that they are doing to try and encourage voting and to put out the correct information when the president and others are undermining vote by mail - something we are doing in every state of the country right now.
Second point, Republicans failed to pass my bipartisan Honest Ads Act and the White House blatantly blocked the bipartisan election security bill that I had with Senator Lankford, as well as several other Republicans, and it is one of the reasons I think we need a new president.
Third, my Republican colleagues in the Senate, many of them I work with very well on this committee, but we have had four years to do something when it comes to antitrust, privacy, local news -- a subject that briefly came up -- and so many other things. I will use my time to focus on what I consider, in Justice Ginsburg’s words to be, a blueprint for the future. I will start with you Mr. Zuckerberg. How many people log into Facebook every day?
ZUCKERBERG: Senator, it is more than 2 billion.
KLOBUCHAR: And how much money have you made on political advertisements in the last two years?
ZUCKERBERG: Senator, I do not know off the top of my head, it is a relatively small part of our revenue.
KLOBUCHAR: Okay. Small for you - but, I think it is $2.2 billion over 10,000 ads sold since May 2018. Those are your numbers and we can check them later. Do you require Facebook employees to review the content of each of the political ads that you sell in order to ensure that they comply with the law and your own internal rules?
ZUCKERBERG: Senator, we require all political advertisers to be verified before they could run ads. And, I believe we do review advertising as well.
KLOBUCHAR: But does a real person actually read the political ads that you sell, yes or no?
ZUCKERBERG: Senator, I imagine that a person does not look at every single ad. Our systems are a combination of artificial intelligence systems and people. We have 35,000 people who do content and security review for us.
KLOBUCHAR: I really just had a straightforward question, because I don’t think they do. I think the algorithms hit in, because I think the ads instantly are placed, is that correct?
ZUCKERBERG: Senator, my understanding of the way the system works is we have computers and artificial intelligence scan everything, and if we think there are potential violations, then either the AI system will act or it will flag it to the tens of thousands of people who do content review.
KLOBUCHAR: With all the money you have, you could have a real person review like all the other traditional media organizations do. Another question - when John McCain and I and Senator Warner introduced the Honest Ads Act we got push back from your company, others, and you were initially against it, and then we discussed this at a hearing and you are for it, I appreciate that. Have you spent any of the money, I know you spent the most money over lobbying last year. Have you spent any of the money trying to change or block the bill?
ZUCKERBERG: No, in fact I have endorsed it publicly and we have implemented it into our systems even though it has not become law. I’m a big supporter of the Honest Ads Act.
KLOBUCHAR: Have you done anything to get it passed, because we are at a roadblock on it? I do appreciate that you voluntarily implemented some of it, but have you voluntarily implemented the part of the Honest Ads Act where you fully disclose which groups of people are being targeted by political ads?
ZUCKERBERG: Senator, we have I think industry-leading transparency around political ads, and part of that is showing which audiences in broad terms ended up seeing the ads. Of course, getting the right resolution on that is challenging without it becoming a privacy issue, but we have tried to do that and provide as much transparency as we can and I think we are currently leading in that area.
KLOBUCHAR: I still have concerns. I don’t mean to interrupt you but I have such limited time. The last thing I will ask you is about divisiveness on the platform, and I know there has been a recent -- studies have shown that part of your algorithms, they push people towards more polarized content, left, right, whatever. In fact, one of your researchers warned senior executives that “our algorithms exploit the human brain's attraction to divisiveness.” The way I look at it - more divisiveness, more time on the platform, the company makes more money. Does that bother you, what it’s done to our politics?
ZUCKERBERG: Senator, I respectfully disagree with that characterization of how the system works. We design our systems to show people the content that’s going to be the most meaningful to them, which is not trying to be as divisive as possible. Most of the content on the systems is not political. It is things like making sure that you can see when your cousin had her baby.
KLOBUCHAR: I am going to move on to Google here and Mr. Pichai, but I am telling you right now that is not what I am talking about, the cousins and the babies here. I am talking about conspiracy theories and all the things that I think Senators on both sides of the aisle know what I am talking about, and I think it has been corrosive.
Google, Mr. Pichai, I have not really liked your response to the lawsuit and what has been happening. I think we need a change in competition policy for this country. I hope I will be able to ask you more about it at the Judiciary Committee, and I think your response isn’t just offensive, it’s been defiant to the Justice Department and suits all over the world. You control almost 90% of all general search engine queries, 70% of the search advertising market. Don’t you see these practices as anti-competitive?
PICHAI: Senator, we are a popular general purpose search engine. We do see robust competition in many categories of information. And, we invest significantly in R&D, we are innovating, we are lowering prices in all the markets we are operating in. Happy to engage and discuss it further.
KLOBUCHAR: One of your employees testified in front of the antitrust subcommittee last month and he suggested that Google wasn’t dominant in ad tech, that it was one of many companies in a highly competitive landscape. And yet Google has 90% of the publisher ad server market, a product of its double-click acquisition. Does the market sound highly competitive to you, when you have 90% of it?
PICHAI: Many publishers can use simultaneously many tools. Amazon and Trade Desk have grown significantly in the past two years. This is a market in which we share a majority of revenue, our margins are low. We are happy to take feedback here. We are trying to support the publishing industry, but definitely open to feedback and happy to engage and discuss it further.
KLOBUCHAR: I think you have gotten feedback from the lawsuit. I am looking forward to our next hearing to discuss it more. Thank you.