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US lawmakers scrutinise link between misinformation and social media algorithms

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Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., makes his opening statement during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, on Capitol Hill
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., makes his opening statement during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, on Capitol Hill   -   Copyright  Tasos Katopodis/AP
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Executives from the world's top social media platforms are set to be grilled by the US Congress about their algorithms and how they could amplify misinformation.

Algorithms on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter were designed to keep users on the platforms for as long as possible and are in charge of the content that is suggested to users on the sites.

But experts from several organisations, including the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), claimed that algorithms contribute to the spread of misinformation and extremist content by suggesting dangerous content to users and sounded the alarm to Democratic lawmakers.

"We carried out a study, looking at people who follow, for example, wellness Influencers. We found that Instagram's algorithm was actually pushing to them vaccine misinformation and COVID misinformation," the CCDH's Callum Hood told Euronews' social media newsdesk.

"Given that we are in a pandemic, that is a huge problem," he added.

The hearing "Algorithms and Amplification", scheduled to go before Congress on Tuesday, is the first entirely focused on social media algorithms and how they may amplify misinformation.

Policy executives from Twitter, YouTube and Facebook will testify in front of a Senate judiciary hearing and misinformation experts.

Governments around the world have recently started to take action on issues relating to algorithms and machine learning.

And in April, the EU set out a proposal on how AI should be regulated within the bloc, which could see companies who break the rules handed fines.

A CCDH study found 65% of vaccine disinformation - false or misleading information that is spread deliberately to deceive - on Facebook and Twitter could be attributed to just 12 anti-vaxxers.

Social media companies say algorithms are key to their business models, but pressure is mounting on lawmakers and platforms around the world to take action against misinformation.