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Facebook, Twitter, YouTube algorithms could be radicalizing people, congressional Democrats say

A letter to the CEOs of several major tech companies says their platforms may push people toward extremism.

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In the wake of the Jan. 6 riot on Capitol Hill, a group of congressional Democrats is asking social media platforms to reexamine the ways they amplify content.

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The algorithms driving content on Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube may also be driving people toward political extremism, a group of congressional Democrats said in a letter sent Friday to the CEOs of those companies.

"On Wednesday, January 6th the United States Capitol was attacked by a violent, insurrectionist mob radicalized in part in a digital echo chamber that your company designed, built, and maintained," says the letter sent to Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, Jack Dorsey and Susan Wojcicki. The letter, penned by Reps. Anna Eshoo of California and Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, goes on to note company efforts at moderation but adds that content moderation on platforms as big as these is "a whack-a-mole answer to a systemic problem."

The fundamental problem, the letter says, is that Facebook, YouTube and Twitter sort and present "information to users by feeding them the content most likely to reinforce their existing political biases, especially those rooted in anger, anxiety and fear." The letter says that as much as 70% of YouTube views are attributable to algorithmic recommendations and cites research and reporting from outlets including The Wall Street Journal, CNBC and CNET.

With each platform, the congressional Democrats are calling for a "fundamental reexamination" of the way these algorithms work. In a tweet Friday, Malinowski said Congress plans to reintroduce legislation exposing social media platforms to greater liabilities when algorithmic content-amplification leads to real-world violence.

So far, 32 additional Democrats have signed the letter, but no Republican has. Facebook, Google and YouTube didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Twitter acknowledged that the company had received the letter and said it intends to respond.The algorithms driving content on Facebook, Google, Twitter and YouTube may also be driving people toward political extremism, a group of congressional Democrats said in a letter sent Friday to the CEOs of those companies.

"On Wednesday, January 6th the United States Capitol was attacked by a violent, insurrectionist mob radicalized in part in a digital echo chamber that your company designed, built, and maintained," says the letter sent to Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, Jack Dorsey and Susan Wojcicki. The letter, penned by Reps. Anna Eshoo of California and Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, goes on to note company efforts at moderation but adds that content moderation on platforms as big as these is "a whack-a-mole answer to a systemic problem."

The fundamental problem, the letter says, is that Facebook, YouTube and Twitter sort and present "information to users by feeding them the content most likely to reinforce their existing political biases, especially those rooted in anger, anxiety and fear." The letter says that as much as 70% of YouTube views are attributable to algorithmic recommendations and cites research and reporting from outlets including The Wall Street JournalCNBC and CNET.

With each platform, the congressional Democrats are calling for a "fundamental reexamination" of the way these algorithms work. In a tweet Friday, Malinowski said Congress plans to reintroduce legislation exposing social media platforms to greater liabilities when algorithmic content-amplification leads to real-world violence.

So far, 32 additional Democrats have signed the letter, but no Republican has. Facebook, Google and YouTube didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Twitter acknowledged that the company had received the letter and said it intends to respond.