WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, convened a hearing with independent experts focusing on the role social media platforms play in the amplification of domestic extremist content, including white nationalist and anti-government content, and how the spread of this rhetoric online translates to real world violence that presents a serious national security threat.
“In attack after attack, there are signs that social media platforms played a role in exposing people to increasingly extreme content, and even amplifying dangerous content to more users. Yet there are still many unanswered questions about what role social media platforms play in amplifying extremist content,” said Senator Peters during the his opening statement.
Peters continued: “It’s not enough for companies to simply pledge that they will get tougher on harmful content, those pledges have gone largely unfulfilled for several years now. Americans deserve answers on how the platforms themselves are designed to funnel specific content to certain users, and how that might distort users’ views and shape their behavior, online and offline.”
To watch video of Senator Peters’ questions and closing, click here.
The hearing follows previous efforts by Peters to press the Chief Executive Officers of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok for more information regarding their companies’ policies to monitor and remove extremist and conspiracy content that advocates violence. Peters is also seeking information from social media companies on the relationship between extremist content and the platforms’ content prioritization algorithms and targeted advertising tools that generate the majority of the companies’ revenue. As a part of his investigation, Peters has also asked the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation about their policies and guidelines for countering the threat of domestic extremism on social media, while protecting civil rights and liberties.
Peters and the witnesses raised concerns during the hearing that recent reports and information, including information provided in the Facebook Papers, show there is a conflict between social media companies’ business models and their efforts to monitor and remove extremist content – which presents a homeland security threat. Peters and the witnesses discussed how tools that platforms utilize to keep users engaged – including algorithms that fuel recommendation engines and targeted advertising– push extremist content toward users. The committee heard testimony on how social media platforms appear to be designed to take users who may be curious about certain topics and expose them to more extreme content. Peters also discussed the connection between exposure to extreme content online and real world violence. For example, the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol showed how these platforms could be used for planning and organizing domestic terrorist attacks – and how they can radicalize and mobilize people to take violent action on a wide scale.
The hearing builds on Peters’ work to investigate the rise of domestic terrorism across the country, including the events surrounding the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. He led the Senate’s first bipartisan investigation and released a joint bipartisan report on the security, planning, and response failures related to the violent and unprecedented attack on the U.S. Capitol by domestic terrorists on January 6th. Peters also recently convened a two-part hearing with experts representing faith-based, civil rights, and academic and policy research organizations on the continued rise of domestic terrorism, including white supremacist and anti-government violence. Last Congress, he secured the expansion of a successful grant program to help houses of worship and other nonprofits protect their facilities from potential attacks. In 2019, Peters helped convene the committee’s first domestic terrorism hearing with a focus on white supremacist violence.