Big Tech Under Fire

After more congressional hearings and a new Justice Department of probe, leaders at Twitter, Facebook, and others may have to prepare for an era of higher scrutiny.

Among the world of tech leaders, the restart button doesn’t appear to be the answer to high scrutiny.

On Wednesday, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey appeared before Congress for another round of questioning about their organizations’ roles in protecting user privacy and the integrity of elections. Then, shortly after their testimony ended, the Department of Justice said it would investigate whether social media platforms are intentionally suppressing some viewpoints.

Social media giants have faced heightened scrutiny since the 2016 United States presidential election over such issues as policing speech, protecting user data, and preventing voter manipulation. Some lawmakers want to impose major regulations. “Congress is going to have to take action here,” said Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) during Wednesday’s hearings. “The era of the Wild West in social media is coming to an end.”

While the DOJ investigation is the latest news, it likely won’t be the last. "Tech giants need to adapt to regulated market demands and hire talent nimble enough to maneuver within their innovative and disruptive cultures, but cautious and savvy enough to manage them through new operational challenges," says Marc Gasperino, a Korn Ferry senior client partner.

To be sure, leaders of social media companies must adjust to a new normal, where adoration and strategic carte blanche from investors, users, and government officials gives way to skepticism and rigid oversight. “What we are witnessing to a certain extent is the growing pains all companies face as they mature,” says Henry Topping, a senior client partner with Korn Ferry’s Media, Entertainment, and Sports practice.

Lawmakers at Wednesday’s hearings essentially followed the same line of questioning as previous hearings surrounding 2016’s election interference, such as when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared before Congress in April. Facebook’s Sandberg and Twitter’s Dorsey reiterated what tech executives have been saying for the last few months: While individual organizations, and the industry as a whole, have taken significant measures to prevent misuse of their platforms, they still need to improve. (The CEOs of Google and its parent company, Alphabet, were invited to testify as well, but elected to abstain from the hearings.)

Topping says social media companies generally could do more to ensure the authenticity of content on their platforms. “The onus should be on them to ensure beyond a reasonable doubt that their platforms are being used appropriately, and not being manipulated or subverted,” says Topping.

That work entails either regulation or further investment in both technology and talent. Aside from Twitter, whose stock price took the biggest hit Wednesday on a percentage basis, other tech giants certainly have the balance sheets to fund more initiatives or hire more people to police the platforms.

“They can and will do more,” Topping says.