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Tech titans face video glitches in congressional testimony

A tiny Jeff Bezos and a choppy Mark Zuckerberg grace the House of Representatives in Wednesday's livestream testimony.

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Screenshot of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifying before Congress via Webex.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as he appeared by videoconference before a congressional subcommittee Wednesday. A low frame rate made him look choppy.

CNET

It was Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' big moment, but he appeared as a tiny box on a large TV screen before the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law in the US House of Representatives on Wednesday. As Bezos began his opening remarks, his image was expanded to take up the whole TV screen, but it appeared that the Cisco Webex videoconferencing service only showed a blank screen. So he was put back into a gallery of more than a dozen small boxes as he continued to speak.

The screen goes blank as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos begins his opening remarks before a Congressional subcommittee Wednesday.

CNET

The testimony came as part of a hearing focused on concerns about tech giants and antitrust law. The hearing progressed with testimony from additional tech CEOs via videoconference. Some lawmakers also participated by videoconference, and others sat in the hearing room and were required to wear masks when not speaking due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

Bezos wasn't the only one hit with technical difficulties. When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke, his image was crystal clear -- but choppy. As he told lawmakers about Facebook's position in the advertising and video markets, the low frame rate made him look like he was in a stop-motion film. The issues persisted as he answered questions.

Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai testified without issue.

Jeff Bezos grabs a quick bite.

CNET

Technical problems didn't cause all the video bloopers Wednesday. As his peers answered questions, Bezos snuck a bite of food while his image was still streaming. The hearing took a recess while the technical issues causing Bezos not to be visible on the full screen were addressed. The Amazon CEO spoke more after the recess, having waited nearly 2 hours after his opening remarks before receiving any direct questions from lawmakers.

It's still unclear what caused Bezos' video stream to display incorrectly before it was fixed. A person familiar with the matter said the problem was not on Amazon's side, and added that the system worked for Amazon when the company practiced multiple times leading up to the hearing.

As Bezos later attempted to answer a question about Chinese companies and intellectual property, his microphone was turned off, and lawmakers were temporarily unable to hear him.

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"Mr. Bezos," said Rep. David Cicilline, a Republican from Rhode Island who chaired the hearing, "I believe you're on mute."

Alfred Ng and Ben Fox Rubin contributed to this report.