While Congress will have its chance to question social media executives under oath Sept. 5, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai wrote in a Sept. 4 blog post that new rules about transparency may be necessary to find out more about how the Silicon Valley giants conduct business.
"The public deserves to know more about how these companies operate," wrote Pai in a post on blog publishing platform Medium. "And we need to seriously think about whether the time has come for these companies to abide by new transparency obligations."
Pai said he’d like to hear the Silicon Valley bosses address privacy and online expression on Capitol Hill this week.
Twitter Inc. CEO Jack Dorsey, Facebook Inc. COO Sheryl Sandberg and a representative from Alphabet Inc.'s Google LLC are expected to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee about foreign influence operations on social media platforms.
Dorsey will also testify in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee about how his company polices content on the same day.
The question of how the social media companies moderate content was the subject of a House Judiciary Committee hearing in July, where executives from the three companies denied allegations of bias.
U.S. President Donald Trump has also accused Google of only featuring negative news content about the president and his administration.
When it comes to the issue of transparency, Pai, a Republican, echoed many of the sentiments expressed by Republicans in Congress. He called for more clarity on how Twitter decides who to suspend and when to do it; how Facebook compiles its News Feed; and how Google orders search results.
Citing the FCC’s transparency rules, which require internet service providers to make information public about how they manage their networks, Pai asked whether "steps need to be taken" so that consumers get more information about how social media companies operate.
Pai did take issue with the suggestion that social media companies should be regulated like public utilities, an idea floated at the July hearing by Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa.
"The Federal Communications Commission, which I have the privilege of leading — shouldn’t regulate these entities like a water company," Pai said. "Because they are private entities, they do not violate the First Amendment when they make certain business judgments about content on their sites."
On privacy, Pai asked whether improved transparency is needed about the privacy practices of these companies. He asked about the way digital platforms scrutinize online content and whether companies discriminate based on political affiliation.
At the July hearing, social platform representatives insisted that political beliefs are not favored in their content filtering processes.