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Former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao: Are the Right People in Charge at Twitter & Facebook?

September 5, 2018

By Madison Alworth

The apologies were abundant, but the solutions less so when Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testified in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday. Former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao, now an activist, author, and chief of non-profit firm Project Include, said the hearings, while enlightening, skimped on concrete plans for the future.

"I think it was a good place for sharing information," Pao said Wednesday in an interview on Cheddar. "But there was no path forward."

The two execs faced a barrage of questions about what they were doing to prevent the manipulation of their platforms, whether the intent was to harass or to affect election results.

But for Pao, change comes down to the bottom dollar. Until these companies see a financial consequence, reform will be slow-moving, she said.

So far that hasn't happened.

Moreover, Pao questioned whether lasting changes can be made under current leadership.

"I wonder if it is the right set of people," she said. As the Silicon Valley alumna noted, all the malfeasance happened "under their watch."

"It's been a problem that's been around for a long time," she said. "Only now are are they starting to care about it; only now are they starting to put their time and energy into it. So how do we think these people who actually created the problem and created these issues and have not solved them up to date, are all of sudden going to transform and change and care about them and really make the huge changes necessary to create better conversations, more authenticity and less fake news?"

Facebook remains a leader in the digital advertising market with an estimated 20 percent share this year (second only to Google, which incidentally did not send a C-level exec to Wednesday's hearing). The company reported ad revenues rose 42 percent in its latest quarter to more than $13 billion.

The impact Pao's waiting for may not be too far off, though ー Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg did admit that efforts to ramp up security will "significantly impact" profitability down the road.

Twitter's Dorsey, for his part, acknowledge during the Senate hearing that his business ー and perhaps democracy ー is at stake. "Our interests are aligned with the American people and this committee," he said in his opening statement.

"If we don't find scalable solutions, we lose our business and continue to threaten the original privilege and liberty we were given to create Twitter in the first place."

During an afternoon hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Dorsey further agreed to produce transparency reports and to submit to audits, to ensure political viewpoints aren't suppressed on the platform.

Investors also seemed unimpressed by the testimony of either exec ー Facebook stock ended the day down about 2 percent while Twitter dropped more than 6 percent.

For full interview click here.