Senior executives from Meta, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok have just wrapped up a three-hour hearing in front of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. the audiencewhich featured Chris Cox, CPO of Meta, Neal Mohan, CPO of YouTube, Vanessa Pappas, COO of TikTok, and Twitter’s general manager of consumer products (known as “Bluebird”), was meant to focus on how its services impact on national security issues.
Notably, the hearing is only the second time representatives from TikTok and YouTube have appeared at such a hearing (executives from Meta and Twitter have been brought up in front of Congress much more often) and the first dedicated to security. The hearing also came a day after the former Twitter security chief turned whistleblower told a different Senate committee that the company had been previously warned by the FBI that it had an employee on its payroll. However, no senator from the Homeland Security Committee asked Sullivan about the allegation.
To be clear, Sullivan was unlikely to have given a substantive answer. When asked about whistleblower Peiter Zatko’s claim that Twitter lied to the FTC, he only said that “Twitter disputes the allegations.” security.
However, lawmakers spent considerable time questioning Pappas about TikTok’s connections to China, which has long been a source of suspicion among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. “TikTok does not operate in China,” Pappas said more than once.
At one point, Senator Josh Hawley had a heated exchange with Pappas over whether the company has employees in China who are members of the Chinese Communist Party. “We have said many times, Senator, that we have Chinese engineers based in China,” Pappas said. “I don’t think there’s any platform here that can talk about what they’re talking about in relation to an individual’s political affiliation.” He later added that the company’s leadership team is based in the United States and Singapore.
Pappas was also asked about a that China-based employees had repeatedly accessed TikTok user data. He said that “those complaints were not found”, and emphasized the “strict access controls” of the company and its work.
TikTok’s COO was also questioned about the app’s use of . “We do not use any type of facial, voice, audio or body recognition that identifies a person,” Pappas told Sen. Kristen Sinema. She added that facial recognition is used for augmented reality effects in the creators’ videos.
There was much less discussion of other security-related issues, including the handling of domestic extremism by social media companies. Committee chairman Senator Gary Peters pressed Cox and Mohan and explained why Meta and YouTube did not crack down on QAnon more quickly. Both sidestepped the question by focusing on their current policies. Other lawmakers chose to spend their time grilling companies about their handling of vaccine misinformation during the pandemic and other content moderation issues.
And, as in previous hearings, executives were often reluctant to provide specific answers to even seemingly simple questions. Peters repeatedly asked each executive how many engineers each company had on staff, a question he said would be notified in advance, but neither gave a straight answer. “I’ll be honest, I’m frustrated that product managers, you all have a prominent seat at the table where these business decisions are made, you weren’t more prepared,” Peters said. “Your companies continue to prevent you from sharing very important information with us.”
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