U.S. government should consider regulating news algorithms, says Twilio CEO

ANASTASIA ZYG


(Subscribe to CNBC Pro to watch the full interview with Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson.)

The U.S. government should consider regulating social media algorithms that drive “what we as consumers see and read every day,” Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson said in an interview with CNBC.

Twilio has been one of several large U.S. technology companies that have cracked down on removing content and applications that promote violence in the wake of the U.S. capitol riot last week. Lawson confirmed Tuesday that Twilio told popular conservative social media application Parler it was “in violation of our terms of service,” leading to Parler ending its integration with Twilio.

“I think our government leaders should seek to understand the role of algorithmic systems in driving what we as consumers see and read every day, because I think that is uncharted territory for how technology is affecting individuals all the way up to the societal level,” Lawson told CNBC’s “A View from the Top.”

“Government officials should seek to understand how algorithms work and what they optimize for and what’s the societal impact of that? Because that’s the biggest externality that you see today in some of the technology that society has not figured out what to do with it. And I think the impacts of it are pretty wide-reaching.”

Amazon Web Services, Zendesk and Okta joined Twilio in pulling its services from Parler in recent days. There’s been a significant shift among technology companies in the past few days of removing speech that insights violence, including Twitter’s permanent ban of U.S. President Donald Trump. Still, future government intervention, regulation or potential Congressional laws regarding how to police hate speech and disinformation will need to be ironed out in President-elect Joe Biden’s administration, which begins next week.

Lawson has publicly supported Biden and donated to his presidential campaign to defeat Donald Trump. He told CNBC Biden’s attention to science and policy, and away from tribalism, will be a welcome change for the U.S.

Lawson dismissed the notion that certain technology companies would start to take on customers based on politics.

“What we’re talking about here is hate speech and threats of murder,” Lawson said on CNBC’s Squawk Box. “That’s not normal public speech that we’re used to in our society. This is fringe stuff. What we’re trying to say is that the vast minority of people who engaged in fringe talk of hate speech and murder and overthrowing governments, that’s what’s not allowed. I’m pretty sure that most rational people would agree that that type of content, most of which is illegal, should not be a part of mainstream services.”

Subscribe to CNBC Pro to read the full Q&A with Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson:

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