Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were questioned on how platform algorithms can make users addicted

The executives from Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s YouTube attended a congressional hearing on Tuesday local time to explain how their algorithms affect users, and sometimes even provide harmful misinformation.

The hearings held by the Privacy and Technology Panel of the Senate Judiciary Committee highlighted a key feature of social media platforms, which amplify some of the most serious hazards that lawmakers have been trying to address through a series of bills.

An algorithm is essentially a formula used by social media platforms to determine what information to display to users who use an application or website. Although both Facebook and Twitter provide users with more choices to let users decide whether they want to view subscription content, the algorithm can present the most attractive content for any particular user based on the user’s interests and past activities.

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Although this can provide a better user experience, it will also push more extreme content to users to reinforce their beliefs instead of showing them content that challenges their views. Lawmakers worry that algorithms may drive users toward extremism or present inaccurate information, especially information about the new coronavirus and vaccines.

In terms of platform supervision, one of the most frequently criticized by lawmakers is Article 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects social media platforms from being held accountable for posting by users.

At the hearing on Tuesday, the reform of Section 230 was mentioned many times, but the hearing discussion also made people notice that paying attention to the transparency of Internet platform algorithms may be a narrower way to control some of the most common hazards of Internet platforms.

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