During Hearing on Domestic Terrorism, Rosen Discusses the Role of Social Media in Spreading Disinformation and Extremism Online

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, during a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) examining racially, ethnically, and religiously motivated domestic terrorism, U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) questioned Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), about extremists exploiting social media platforms as tools for disinformation and hate, often serving as catalysts for violence. A transcript of the Senator’s exchange can be found below, and a video of the Senator’s full exchange can be found here.

ROSEN: I’d like to build on what some of my colleagues have talked about on online radicalization. You know, these tools of extremism, the theories, the disinformation—we know that they’re bringing and spreading quickly online. They just can morph overnight, right? 

And so, I’m relieved to see companies like Facebook and Twitter taking some long-overdue steps to curb the rise of hate, like prohibiting Holocaust denial content. However, we’re seeing extremism resurface on alternative social media platforms, like Gab, which we know is a recruitment tool for neo-Nazis and was the website where we mentioned the Tree of Life Synagogue shooter posted right before that massacre. 

So, Mr. Greenblatt, all too often, what enables extremist groups and individuals is the hate messaging to the American public and algorithms, like you said, that are on social media. So, what specific steps do you think platforms should take to ensure that hateful content does not escalate to violence? And what checks should we put in place to ensure that this violence isn’t celebrated and amplified on these platforms?

GREENBLATT: Well, first and foremost, thank you very much for the question. I mentioned section 230 reform. It’s really critical. We need to do it in such a way that protects the targets of harassment and has transparency, push the companies for independent audits. 

And we really need to deal with the overall problematic business model, Senator, and the anti-competitive marketplace we have. So, you mention alternative platforms. There’s Gab, there’s Discord, and there’s Getter, and Parlor is trying to reemerge, et cetera. 

But let’s be clear. Facebook is literally a trillion-dollar corporation that earned $80 billion in revenue last year, $24 billion in profit. They have more users than any country on the planet has citizens. This is one of the most innovative businesses in the history of capitalism. They — if they chose to — could apply their resources to solve this problem tomorrow. It simply requires them enforcing their own terms of service. 

But the reason ADL, along with the NAACP, Color of Change, LULAC, Common Sense Media, and others, launched the Stop Hate for Profit Campaign last year was the company’s failure to deal with anti-black racism, antisemitism, other forms of hate on the platform. 

It was only when they came under sever reputational pressure that the company finally made a series of concessions. So, I can’t understate enough the power that you have. Because, while they may be immune to revenue pressure because of their size and fiduciary pressure because of their confidence, these companies are not immune to reputational pressure and regulatory pressure. 

So, it is Facebook that is first and foremost, and our own studies show us that three times the number of people who are literally targeted and harassed online, it happens on Facebook more than anywhere else. But, again, TikTok and Twitter, Clubhouse, and Google, and so many of these other companies—they all have challenges, and they all merit our attention. 

ROSEN: Well, thank you. Like I said, I appreciate the work that ADL does—that everyone here on the panel, the panels we’ve had in the past—everything you all are doing to make sure that we have all the information that we need here in Washington to partner with our communities all across this country and all across the globe to do the right thing to stop hate.