Wednesday January 16, 2019
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Social Media Giants To US Lawmakers Over Political Issues

Trump faulted Twitter on July 26, without citing any evidence, for limiting the visibility of prominent Republicans through a practice known as shadow banning.

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Facebook
Invite friends to enjoy events together on Facebook Pixabay

Top Twitter and Facebook executives will defend their companies before U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday, with Facebook insisting it takes election interference seriously and Twitter denying its operations are influenced by politics.

But no executive from Alphabet’s Google is expected to testify, after the company declined the Senate Intelligence Committee’s request to send one of its most senior executives, frustrating lawmakers.

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, appearing alongside Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey, will say that her company’s efforts to combat foreign influence have improved since the 2016 U.S. election, according to written testimony released Tuesday.

“The actions we’ve taken in response … show our determination to do everything we can to stop this kind of interference from happening,” Sandberg said.

The company is getting better at finding and removing “inauthentic” content and now has more than 20,000 people working on safety and security, she said.

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Facebook ads linked to a Russian effort to disrupt the American political process are displayed as Google, Facebook and Twitter officials testify during a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 1, 2017. Top Twitter and Facebook executives will defend their companies before U.S. lawmakers. VOA

Technology executives have repeatedly testified in Congress over the past year, on the defensive over political influence activity on their sites as well as concerns about user privacy.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has been looking into efforts to influence U.S. public opinion for more than a year, after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Kremlin-backed entities sought to boost Republican Donald Trump’s chances of winning the White House in 2016.

Moscow has denied involvement.

Google offered to send its chief legal officer, Kent Walker, to Wednesday’s hearing, but he was rejected by the committee, which said it wanted to hear from corporate decision-makers.

‘Don’t understand the problem’

Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, the committee’s Republican chairman, said he expected the hearing would focus on solutions to the problem of foreign efforts to influence U.S. elections and sow political discord, with a jab at Google.

“You don’t understand the problem if you don’t see this as a large effort from whole of government and the private sector,” Burr told reporters at the Senate.

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Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., speaks at a committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. VOA

Google said Walker would be in Washington on Wednesday and be available to meet with lawmakers. On Tuesday it released written “testimony” describing the company’s efforts to combat influence operations.

Twitter’s Dorsey also will testify at a House of Representatives hearing on Wednesday that the company “does not use political ideology to make any decisions,” according to written testimony also made public Tuesday.

Dorsey will appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, addressing Republican concerns about how the social media platform polices content.

“From a simple business perspective and to serve the public conversation, Twitter is incentivized to keep all voices on the platform,” Dorsey said.

Conservative Republicans in Congress have criticized social media companies for what they say are politically motivated practices in removing some content, a charge the companies have repeatedly rejected.

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Facebook, Twitter to Face US Lawmakers Over Politics, Internet Pixabay

Trump faulted Twitter on July 26, without citing any evidence, for limiting the visibility of prominent Republicans through a practice known as shadow banning.

Also Read:USA Sees a Significant Rise in STD Cases

Democratic Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island blasted Wednesday’s hearing and his Republican colleagues, calling claims of political bias baseless.

“There is no evidence that the algorithms of social networks or search results are biased against conservatives. It is a made-up narrative pushed by the conservative propaganda machine to convince voters of a conspiracy that does not exist,” Cicilline said.

Next Story

U.S. Court Blocks Question On Citizenship For U.S. Census

The Census Bureau itself recommended against adding a citizenship question, estimating that at least 630,000 households would refuse to fill out the 2020 questionnaire if such a question were included.

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An envelope contains a 2018 census test letter mailed to a resident in Providence, R.I., March 23, 2018. VOA

A federal judge has blocked the Commerce Department from including a question about U.S. citizenship on the 2020 census.

To plaintiffs in the case — a sizable coalition of states, cities and advocates — the question seemed aimed at turning the official population survey into a tool to advance Trump administration policies by discouraging immigrants from participating.

In Tuesday’s ruling, which came after a two-week trial in New York, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman said that the decision to add the citizenship question was made before data was collected to show that a change in policy was necessary.

In his 277-page ruling, Furman wrote that the decision was “pretextual” and thus violated a federal law called the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

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Migrants traveling with children walk up a hill to a waiting U.S. Border Patrol agent just inside San Ysidro, Calif., after climbing over the border wall from Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, Dec. 3, 2018. VOA

Furman said the APA requires federal agencies to study an issue before changing policies, and the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, “violated the public trust.”

Documented noncitizens

About 11 million people who live in the U.S. are undocumented, but there are also about 13 million documented noncitizens who might fear responding to the census questionnaire if citizenship is included.

“Hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of people will go uncounted in the census if the citizenship question is included,” Furman said.

The U.S. census is taken every 10 years and is next scheduled for 2020. It plays a critical role in U.S. politics since the apportionment of House of Representative seats is based on population figures derived from the census and also disbursement of millions in federal funds. In addition, decisions from the location of businesses to the makeup of state and local districts are based on the census.

Plaintiffs argued that noncitizens tend to live in places that disproportionately vote Democratic, so an undercount would likely shift political power and federal spending to Republican areas.

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Immigrants participate in a naturalization ceremony to become U.S. citizens in Los Angeles, Dec. 19, 2018. VOA

Furman’s ruling is only the opening salvo on the citizenship question. The Supreme Court has already agreed to hear an aspect of the case in February, hoping to rule before the Census Bureau has to print its questionnaire. In addition, the government is expected to quickly appeal Furman’s ruling.

Reasoned explanation

The U.S. government fought hard to keep the citizenship question out of court. When that failed, government lawyers argued that how Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross reached his decision on the citizenship question was “immaterial.”

“All the secretary is required to do is to provide a reasoned explanation,” Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brett A. Shumate told the court. “He doesn’t have to choose the best option.”

Ross has said that he decided to add citizenship to the census in response to a request from the Justice Department, which said that census data on citizenship would help it better enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

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Migrants wait in line for food at a camp housing hundreds of people who arrived at the U.S. border from Central America with the intention of applying for asylum in the U.S., in Tijuana, Mexico, Dec. 12, 2018. VOA

Citizenship was on the questionnaire in censuses before 1960 and is still part of the American Community Survey, which samples about 2.6 percent of the population each year, in order to help local officials and businesses understand what is going on in their communities.

‘Forceful rebuke’

But last January, the Census Bureau itself recommended against adding a citizenship question, estimating that at least 630,000 households would refuse to fill out the 2020 questionnaire if such a question were included.

Also Read: International Immigrants May be Healthier Than Native: Study

“This victory in our case is a forceful rebuke of the administration’s attempts to weaponize the census to attack immigrants and communities of color,” the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement about the case.

Along with the ACLU, plaintiffs included 18 states, the District of Columbia, several cities and some immigrant rights groups. (VOA)