By Carlo Versano
Well, that happened.
Far-right conspiracy theorist and verbal bomb-thrower Alex Jones crashed both the Senate and House hearings on big tech Wednesday, commandeering media attention and at one point nearly getting into an altercation with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).
Jones told Cheddar's J.D. Durkin that he was there to "face my accusers." Jones, who founded the conspiracy site InfoWars, was booted off Facebook and YouTube for peddling hate speech, though he remains active on Twitter.
His comments to Cheddar came on a marathon day for big tech on Capitol Hill. Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter's founder and CEO Jack Dorsey addressed the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday morning, and Dorsey testified for the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the afternoon. Both sessions were meant to discuss how the respective platforms can better protect billions of users against fake news, propaganda, harassment, and hate speech.
Both executives said they were taking specific steps to address the spread of misinformation. For example, Facebook now demotes articles rated as "false" by third-party fact checkers, warns users before they share such posts, and promotes related articles that are deemed more accurate, Sandberg said.
Still, they admitted their efforts came too late.
"We were too slow to spot this and too slow to act," Sandberg said during the Senate hearing, addressing Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
And Dorsey said Twitter was "unprepared and ill-equipped" to defend users against nefarious actors that have gamed the platform's services.
Investors were seemingly unimpressed by the execs' statements ー shares of Facebook, Twitter, and Dorsey's other company Square were all down along with the broader social media and tech space Wednesday.
Dorsey and Sandberg agreed that fake accounts are the root of many of their problems. Both platforms, the executives said, are now proactively shutting down millions of accounts a week. Sandberg also added that Facebook employs 20,000 security and safety personnel who work 24 hours a day.
The Senate hearing got off to a collegial start, as Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Mark Warner (D-VA) expressed their appreciation for the steps Facebook and Twitter have taken to regain control of their platforms. Though Burr added, "I'm not sure your success is the big story here."
Two of Silicon Valley's most respected execs sitting side-by-side on Capitol Hill was a potent visual ー even more so because of who was absent. The committee rejected Google's offer to send its chief legal counsel, and neither the company nor its parent Alphabet sent their CEOs or chairmen.
Instead, an empty chair joined Sandberg and Dorsey on the dais.