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Hillicon Valley: Congress prepares to hold hearing on SolarWinds breach, Big Tech content moderation | Tensions rise between Capitol Hill and Facebook, Google over news distribution

Hillicon Valley: Congress prepares to hold hearing on SolarWinds breach, Big Tech content moderation | Tensions rise between Capitol Hill and Facebook, Google over news distribution
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Congress is lining up tech and cyber hearings over the next few weeks, including a look at the SolarWinds breach, hearing from Big Tech CEOs on content moderation policies, and the launch of a series of hearings focused on combating what lawmakers says is an abuse of online market power.

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SOLARWINDS HEARING INCOMING: The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a hearing on the massive Russian breach of the federal government that has become known as the SolarWinds hack next week in one of the first major congressional hearings on the issue. 

The event, set for Feb. 23, will feature testimony from Sudhakar Ramakrishna, the CEO of IT group SolarWinds, which became the face of one of the biggest cyber incidents in U.S. history. Officials discovered in December that hackers had exploited the company's software to compromise up to 18,000 of its customers for more than a year. 

Other witnesses will include Microsoft President Brad Smith, FireEye CEO Kevin Mandia and CrowdStrike President and CEO George Kurtz. 

Read more about the upcoming hearing here.

AND (ANOTHER) TECH CEO HEARING: The CEOs of the top tech platforms will testify — again — at a house hearing regarding their content moderation policies. 

The CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google will testify on March 25 at a House Energy and Commerce hearing on the spread of online misinformation. 

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Scrutiny over the platforms’ handling of misinformation has amplified since the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol which was largely driven by online organization.  

Read more here

SPEAKING OF ANTITRUST: The House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee will launch a series of hearings on proposals to address what it sees as an abuse of online market power. 

The first hearing is scheduled for next Thursday. 

The subcommittee said it plans to call antitrust experts, affected businesses and “other knowledgeable witnesses” to assist with the development of legislation, but the Thursday announcement did not include details on specific witnesses that will take part in the hearings.  

The scheduled hearings are a continuation of lawmakers’ efforts to clamp down on the market power of the four biggest tech companies in the country. 

Read more here

A SHOWDOWN OVER NEWS: Facebook and Google are heading into a showdown with Congress over a law that would allow news organizations to bargain with tech platforms over the distribution of their content. 

A bill that gained bipartisan support last Congress is expected to be reintroduced soon, and the tech platforms have already previewed their line of attack amid an ongoing battle over an Australian proposal that would force the Silicon Valley giants to pay publishers. 

The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act would not go that far, but it would provide a four-year safe harbor from antitrust laws for print or digital news companies to allow them to collectively negotiate with digital content distributors, such as Google and Facebook, regarding the terms on how the content is distributed. 

Read more here

DISINFORMATION DEFENSE: A Latino advocacy group and media watchdog will invest $22 million in an effort to battle disinformation targeted at the Hispanic community.

Voto Latino and Media Matters for America on Thursday launched the Latino Anti-Disinformation Lab, with an aim to “combat mis- and disinformation that further polarizes and isolates Latinx voters.”

According to the groups, it will be the largest investment in combatting disinformation in Latino communities to date, citing a surge in Spanish and English language misinformation on voter fraud and Covid-19.

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Read more about the group here.

TECH FIGHTS THE TAX: A coalition of trade organizations filed a lawsuit Thursday against the Maryland state government over passage of a bill that imposes a tax on digital ad revenue.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Internet Association, sued Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (D).

CCIA's members include Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google and Uber.

Read more here

DEBUNKING CLIMATE MYTHS: Facebook announced Thursday that it will add a new section to its platform to debunk common climate change myths as it expands its nascent battle against disinformation.

The social media behemoth said in a statement that it is expanding its climate change information hub to include a section that will feature facts that rebut common fallacies.

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The new effort will be guided by climate experts from George Mason University, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the University of Cambridge.

Read more here

NOT A GREAT LOOK: Americans’ perceptions of big tech companies have steadily deteriorated over the past 18 months as titans like Facebook, Twitter and Amazon receive an avalanche of bipartisan criticism, according to a new poll.

A new Gallup poll released Thursday shows that 45 percent of those surveyed have “somewhat” or “very” negative views of large tech companies, which were defined in the survey as firms “such as Amazon, Facebook and Google.”

The percent of respondents who had “somewhat” negative views remained the same from when the poll was taken in August 2019 — 23 percent — but the percentage of those with “very” negative views jumped from 10 percent to 22 percent. 

Read more about the poll here

BRINGING HIM BACK: Bill Gates said in an interview broadcast Thursday that social media companies should eventually allow former President TrumpDonald TrumpNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors McCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 MORE back on their platforms after he was banned last month following the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol. 

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“I think at some point he probably will be allowed back on and probably should be allowed back on,” Gates told CNBC when asked whether he would allow the former president back on social media if he were a Facebook official.

The former president is permanently banned from Twitter. Facebook has temporarily suspended his account, and the platform’s independent oversight body is currently weighing a decision on whether to allow him back on.

Read more about Gate’s comments here.

 

Lighter click: Not the best for concentration

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NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB: 

Tension grows between Congress and the administration over how White House cyber policy should be run (The Washington Post / Ellen Nakashima) 

Salsa made with a drill and more: TikTok offers glimpses of life during Texas storm (The Washington Post / Travis Andrews)

Instacart is punishing its gig workers for orders they can’t deliver (Vice Motherboard / Lauren Kaori Gurley) 

I helped build ByteDance’s vast censorship machine (Protocol / Shen Lu) 

Tracking down mystery boats on the high seas (The Verge / Justine Calma)