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Facebook’s head of global safety will face off with members of the Senate Commerce consumer protection subcommittee on Thursday as part of the panel’s first in a series of hearings focused on kids’ safety. As criticism of the tech giant heats up following recent bombshell reports, the panel will convene again next week to hear testimony from a Facebook whistleblower.
Meanwhile, YouTube said it will ban prominent accounts identified as spreading misinformation about vaccines after months of pressure from advocates.
Let’s jump in.
For the kids
Senators are set to grill Facebook over the platform’s impact on children with two hearings scheduled to kick off on Thursday.
Concerns over social media’s impact on kids’ health and privacy have been a rare unifying issue in Washington, though the collective fury has failed to produce swift legislative action on proposals to regulate platforms.
On the schedule: Questions about kids’ safety online have been raised in previous congressional hearings with big tech executives, but the upcoming Senate Commerce consumer protection subcommittee hearings will put a spotlight on youth safety. The panel will question Facebook’s global head of safety, Antigone Davis, at a Thursday hearing, and will later hear from a Facebook whistleblower on Tuesday.
“This whistleblower’s testimony will be critical to understanding what Facebook knew about its platforms’ toxic effects on young users, when they knew it, and what they did about it,” subcommittee Chairman Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a statement. “I look forward to a discussion of the wide range of stunning allegations that have recently been brought to light about the concerning experiences young people are having on these apps.”
The concerns: Congressional rage at Facebook has ramped up in recent days after a series of Wall Street Journal articles detailed internal company research on Instagram’s negative impact on teen mental health, fueled further by another article on Tuesday on Facebook’s push to court young users.
The earlier reporting unleashed waves of bipartisan backlash, leading Instagram, which is owned by Instagram, to pause its controversial plan to launch an Instagram platform for kids. The popular photo-sharing app bans users under 13, although critics and the company acknowledge users often lie about their age to get on as children.
Despite Instagram’s pause on the plan, the concerns are likely to be raised at the upcoming hearings. After the pause was announced, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said the company has not gone far enough.
A MESSAGE FROM ERICSSON
Youtube clamps down… now?
YouTube announced Wednesday that it will ban several prominent accounts that spread false information about vaccines, a move that is part of an expansion of its medical misinformation policies.
Under the new policies, the Google-owned site will remove any videos claiming that approved vaccines are dangerous or cause chronic health side effects.
That means videos implying vaccines cause autism, cancer or infertility will now be taken down.
Videos about vaccine policies, like ones arguing against mandates, will not run afoul of the new guidelines.
As part of the policy launch, several high-profile accounts are being pulled down.
The accounts of Robert F. Kennedy’s Children’s Health Defense Fund, alternative medicine influencer Joseph Mercola and vaccine critic and physician Sherri Tenpenny will all be removed.
These individuals have been identified by experts as partially responsible for the vaccine skepticism that has slowed efforts to inoculate Americans against COVID-19.
STRENGTHENING CYBERSECURITY WORKFORCE
The House on Wednesday passed bipartisan legislation aimed at strengthening the federal cybersecurity workforce, an issue that has garnered support following a year of massive information security incidents.
The Federal Rotational Cyber Workforce Program Act, sponsored by Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), would establish a program to allow cybersecurity professionals to rotate through multiple federal agencies and enhance their expertise.
The bill would also encourage federal agency leaders to identify cybersecurity positions that can be rotated through government, and give the Office of Personnel Management jurisdiction over the Federal Rotational Cyber Workforce Program.
HOUSE OVERSIGHT DEMANDS FBI BRIEFING
The leaders of the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday demanded a briefing from the FBI on its decision to withhold for three weeks the decryption key necessary for companies impacted by the ransomware attack on IT company Kaseya to recover.
The request came a week after The Washington Post first reported that the FBI, in consultation with other agencies, chose to hold on to the decryption key as part of a planned effort to disrupt REvil, the Russian-based cybercriminal group behind the attack on Kaseya.
The attack is estimated to have impacted between 800 and 1,500 groups beginning prior to the Fourth of July holiday.
“Although the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reportedly obtained a digital decryptor key that could have unlocked affected systems, it withheld this tool for nearly three weeks as it worked to disrupt the attack, potentially costing the ransomware victims—including schools and hospitals—millions of dollars,” Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and ranking member Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) wrote in a letter sent to FBI Director Christopher Wray Wednesday.
A MESSAGE FROM ERICSSON
‘RUMOR CONTROL’ REMAINS
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) will use its "rumor control" website to counter disinformation and misinformation during future elections despite the site's role in former President Trump ousting several of the agency's top officials in 2020.
CISA Director Jen Easterly made the announcement Wednesday, noting her concern around misleading election claims and saying the site would be one of the efforts to combat disinformation and misinformation that the agency is pursuing ahead of next year's midterm elections.
“So rumor control, when I looked at this as a private citizen, I saw what CISA was doing, which is really making sure that the American people have the facts that they need,” Easterly said during a keynote at the Aspen Institute’s Cyber Summit. “I worry a lot about misinformation and disinformation as a citizen, but also as a mom.”
RUSSIA THREATENS RETALIATION
Russia is threatening "retaliatory measures" against YouTube after the company removed its state media RT's German-language channels for allegedly containing COVID-19 misinformation.
Russia said the company is engaging in "unprecedented information aggression" and is breaking Russian law, Reuters reported.
"There should certainly be zero tolerance for this kind of breaking of the law," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
The country’s foreign ministry is working on "a proposal to develop and take retaliatory measures against the YouTube hosting service and the German media,” according to the wire service.
BITS AND PIECES
An op-ed to chew on: Keep eyes on the ball with US–EU trade and technology cooperation
Lighter click: It’s the chunkiest week of the year!
Notable links from around the web:
Inside Lina KhanLina KhanBiden to speak on economy Tuesday, with Fed pick imminent On The Money — House Democrats pass Biden's big bill Hillicon Valley — Presented by Ericsson — House passes Biden plan with 0M for cyber MORE’s war on monopolies (Politico / Leah Nylen)
Drones May Help Replant Forests—If Enough Seeds Take Root (Wired / Khari Johnson)
Amazon’s newest products expand its surveillance inside the home (Washington Post / Heather Kelly, Chris Velazco, Jay Greene and Tatum Hunter)
One last thing: Ivermectin disinformation leads to chaos
An avalanche of misinformation about the antiparasitic drug ivermectin’s ability to treat COVID-19 has caused a series of national problems, from increased calls to poisoning centers to a shortage of the medicine itself.
Patients have become desperate for a treatment that’s most commonly used for livestock and have taken their disputes over ivermectin with hospitals to court.
Disinformation has flooded the internet, where dozens of Facebook groups centered around ivermectin remain active despite insufficient evidence that the medicine works in treating people for COVID-19.