As New Congress Takes Shape, Lawmakers Take Aim at Algorithms That Are 'at Odds with Democracy'

Rachel Uranga

Rachel Uranga is dot.LA's Managing Editor, News. She is a former Mexico-based market correspondent at Reuters and has worked for several Southern California news outlets, including the Los Angeles Business Journal and the Los Angeles Daily News. She has covered everything from IPOs to immigration. Uranga is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and California State University Northridge. A Los Angeles native, she lives with her husband, son and their felines.

As New Congress Takes Shape, Lawmakers Take Aim at Algorithms That Are 'at Odds with Democracy'

Democratic lawmakers are calling on Facebook, Twitter and other social media to alter the powerful algorithms that fuel their site, saying that they led to the attack on the Capitol and intensify fringe political beliefs.

"The algorithms Facebook uses to maximize user engagement on its platform undermine our shared sense of objective reality, intensify fringe political beliefs, facilitate connections between extremist users, and, tragically, lead some of them to commit real-world physical violence, such as what we experienced firsthand on January 6th," wrote Silicon Valley Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and New Jersey Congressman Tom Malinowski in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.


The two sent similar letters to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and the CEO of YouTube Susan Wojcicki and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. All were co-signed by dozens of congressmembers.

The attack on the Capitol has increased scrutiny of social media sites but officials will have difficulty drawing a line between speech that incites violence and muzzling political expression. Snap, Twitter, Facebook and other sites took down President Donald Trump's accounts in the days after a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol. Critics say the aggressive stance is too little, too late and it hasn't stemmed the tide as conspiracy theories and other extreme beliefs continue to proliferate.

"The algorithmic amplification and recommendation systems that platforms employ spread content that's evocative over what's true," Eshoo said in a statement. "The horrific damage to our democracy wrought on January 6th demonstrated how these social media platforms played a role in radicalizing and emboldening terrorists to attack our Capitol. These American companies must fundamentally rethink algorithmic systems that are at odds with democracy."

Eshoo sat on the powerful Communications & Technology subcommittee in the last Congressional session, during which she and Malinowksi introduced legislation to amend Section 230. The law governs the liability of internet intermediaries, including social media companies, for the content users publish on their platforms. The amendment would increase sites' liability for how their algorithms spread harmful or radicalizing content that leads to offline violence. She has said she will reintroduce it in this Congress.

See the full letters here:

    • Letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook
    • Letter to Susan Wojcicki and Sundar Pichai, YouTube; Alphabet/Google
    • Letter to Jack Dorsey, Twitter
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    Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

    Christian Hetrick

    Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

    Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

    When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

    The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

    Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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    Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

    Christian Hetrick

    Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

    Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

    LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

    The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

    From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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    PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

    Jamie Williams
    ­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
    Jason Wise holding wine glass
    Image courtesy of Jason Wise

    Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

    As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

    On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

    The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

    “With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

    …Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

    For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

    “Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

    But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

    So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

    “Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

    Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

    dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.

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