Last week, on Monday, The House Energy and Commerce Committee announced that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey will testify before the committee regarding Twitter algorithms and content monitoring. The hearing is scheduled to take place on the afternoon of Wednesday, September 5, 2018. It is Wednesday, and Jack Dorsey has released a Testimony ahead of appearing before the committee today.
Mid August, Jack Dorsey announced plans to rethink how Twitter works to combat fake news and data scandals. In July, Twitter deleted 70 million fake accounts in an attempt to curb fake news and improve Twitter algorithms. It has been constantly suspending fake accounts which are inauthentic, spammy or created via malicious automated bots.
In his testimony, Dorsey has pushed back critics who have accused Twitter of censoring political content and not acting quickly enough to take down hateful expression. “Twitter does not use political ideology to make any decisions, whether related to ranking content on our service or how we enforce our rules.”
His testimony provided information on four important factors that E&C sought answers for.
- Improving Twitter’s health
- Twitter algorithms
- Twitter’s work on Russian meddling of the 2016 elections
- Information on recent malicious activity Twitter saw on the platform.
Regarding Twitter’s health, Dorsey asserted that the platform has developed a more “comprehensive framework” to encourage healthy debate, conversations, and critical thinking. Earlier this year, Twitter began collaborating with the non-profit research center Cortico and the MIT Media Lab on exploring how to measure aspects of the health of the public sphere.
They also requested outside experts for their proposed health metrics for Twitter. Following which the social platform is partnering with the University of Oxford and Leiden University and other academic institutions to better measure the health of Twitter, focusing on “informational echo chambers and unhealthy discourse on Twitter”.
In 2016, Twitter introduced a Home Timeline new ranking feature to show people the Tweets they might find most interesting first. Twitter also has a notification timeline that enables people to see who has liked, retweeted and replied to their Tweets, as well as who mentioned or followed them.
Twitter algorithms also promote “Safe Search”. Per this mode, potentially sensitive content is excluded from search results, such as spam, adult content, and the accounts an individual has muted or blocked. Individual accounts may also mark their own posts as sensitive.
Twitter also uses behavioral signals to determine how Tweets are organized. When a Tweet is identified as potentially detracting from a healthy conversation, it will only be available to view if you click on “Show more replies” or choose to see everything in your search setting. Using behavior signals, Twitter has had a 4 percent drop in abuse reports from search and 8 percent fewer abuse reports from conversations.
In preparation for the hearing, Twitter data scientists analyzed Tweets sent by all members of the House and Senate that have Twitter accounts for a 30 day period spanning July 23, 2018 until August 13, 2018. They observed that there is no statistically significant difference between the number of times a Tweet by a Democrat is viewed versus a Tweet by a Republican. Their performance is the same because the Twitter platform itself does not take sides.
Twitter’s work on Russian meddling of the 2016 elections
After the meddling of Russian interference in US presidential elections in 2016, Twitter conducted a comprehensive platform activity. They identified 50,258 automated accounts that were Russian-linked and Tweeting election-related content. They also conducted an analysis of accounts that promoted election-related Tweets on the platform throughout 2016 in the form of paid ads. The two most active accounts were affiliated with Russia Today (“RT”), which Twitter subsequently barred from advertising.
Per Dorsey’s testimony “Twitter’s main focus is on promoting healthy public discourse through protection of the democratic process. We must continue to work together with our elected officials, government partners, industry peers, outside experts, and other stakeholders so that the American people and the global community can understand the full context in which these threats arise.”
Recent Malicious activity Twitter saw on its platform
Twitter has suspended a total of 3,843 malicious accounts affiliated with the Russian Internet Research Agency. “As an example of Twitter’s ongoing efforts, Twitter identified 18 accounts in March 2018, believed to be linked to the Internet Research Agency uncovered by our ongoing additional reviews.”
They have also suspended 770 accounts for violating Twitter policies in Iran. These accounts were in violation of Twitter’s platform manipulation policies and were engaged in coordinated activity intended to propagate messages artificially across accounts. Dorsey says, “Twitter has been in close contact with our industry peers about the malicious accounts located within Iran—we have received detailed information from them that has assisted us in our investigation, and we have shared our own details and work with other companies.”
Dorsey ends his testimony saying that increased transparency is critical to promoting healthy public conversation on Twitter and earning trust. “We remain vigilant about identifying and eliminating abuse on the platform perpetrated by hostile foreign actors, and we will continue to invest in resources and leverage our technological capabilities to do so,” he wrote. You can read Dorsey’s entire testimony here.