House panel looks into harmful extremist groups on social media, company accountability

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Lawmakers are looking into the growing number of hate groups inciting violence on social media platforms.

The House subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce heard testimony from witnesses about the increasing threat and said radicals from both political sides are using social media.

“I know firsthand that online hate ruins lives,” said Taylor Dumpson. “Hate should never be normalized.”

Dumpson shared her story about the founder of a well-known Neo Nazi website directing his followers to send racist and threatening messages to her after she was elected as the first Black woman Student Government President at American University in 2017.

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“Quote, just smash her in the head with a bike lock hard enough to split her head open with a wound that needed stitches,” Dumpson said as she read the threats.

Dumpson sued the website’s founder and was awarded more than $700,000.

Lawmakers discussed holding the social media companies more accountable when they don’t take action to stop these kinds of hateful messages.

“Big tech has helped divide nations and has stoked genocide in others,” said Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-Illinois). “Controversy and extremism drives engagement and therefore profit,”

Tech experts said the extremism comes from both political sides, pointing to a growing number of online threats against law enforcement and elected leaders.

“These anti-government, anti-police messages broke into the mainstream including Facebook and Twitter,” said John Donohue, a Fellow at Rutgers University Miler Center for Community Protection and Resiliency.

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There was also caution about protecting free speech.

“For political speech we disagree with, the answer should not be censorship,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Washington). “The answer should always be more speech and for harmful speech, it should be removed.”

Schakowsky said she plans to introduce a bill next week that would hold the social media companies more accountable.

“Next week, I will be circulating a draft legislative proposal that aims to fundamentally alter these companies' business models and give consumers and regulators the recourse when these companies fail in their basic commitments,” Schakowsky said.