Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, hammered three leading tech companies, calling them the “single greatest threat to free speech in America.”
He added that the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google were also “the greatest threat we have to free and fair elections” after recent efforts to censor damaging revelations about Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
When the New York Post story broke nearly two weeks ago exposing the corrupt foreign dealings of the Biden family—which they and their media allies had long denied—the online platforms rushed to suppress the information.
Their outrageous censorship quickly became a story unto itself, with Cruz stepping out of the confirmation hearings for then-Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett to denounce the social media platforms and pledging to subpoena the top executives.
On Wednesday, Google’s Sundar Pichai, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey were called to task before the Senate Commerce Committee.
The public scolding the three received offered some measure of satisfaction, though many questions loomed as to how the platforms may seek to interfere in next week’s general election.
Cruz offered the most outspoken criticism during the early portion of the hearing. He singled out Dorsey in particular, saying Twitter’s conduct had been by far the most egregious of the three.
“Mr. Dorsey, who the hell elected you and put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report and what the American people are allowed to hear,” Cruz asked, “and why do you persist in behaving as a Democratic super-PAC, silencing views to the contrary of your beliefs?”
Already pushing past the seven minutes of allotted time, Dorsey was mercifully let of the hook and allowed to offer a simple mea culpa with no real explanations.
“We realize that more accountability is needed to show our intentions and to show the outcomes,” he claimed, “and so I hear the concerns and I acknowledge them, but we want to fix it with more transparency.”
Dorsey likewise came up short in explaining how the New York Post‘s reporting constituted a violation of Twitter’s supposed “hacked materials” policy.
He said the policy dated back to 2018, but Cruz pointed out that a recent New York Times report drawn from illegally obtained tax information about President Donald Trump did not receive the same standard.
“We didn’t find that a violation of our terms of service and in particular because it was a reporting about the material,” Dorsey falsely claimed of the Times’ tax piece.
Other GOP senators also exposed the hollow, arbitrary and inconsistent practices that Twitter has been masquerading as official policies to justify its policing of political speech.
Committee Chair Roger Wicker, R-Miss., submitted to the record four anti-Semitic tweets inciting violence against Israel and its allies that Twitter had allowed Iran’s top ayatollah to post without any sort of consequence.
The elimination of the Zionist regime does not mean the massacre of the Jewish ppl. The ppl of Palestine should hold a referendum. Any political sys they vote for should govern in all of Palestine. The only remedy until the removal of the Zionist regime is firm, armed resistance.
— Khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) May 21, 2020
But Dorsey dismissed them as simple “sabre-rattling,” making a distinction between those attacks and criticisms a world leader might make of his own citizens.
Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., followed up on the Iran double-standard, comparing the ayatollah’s tweets to those from President Donald Trump that cast valid aspersions on mail-in ballot fraud.
He asked Dorsey if he thought Holocaust-deniers were spreading misinformation, which Dorsey then affirmed.
“Iran’s ayatollah has done exactly this, questioning the Holocaust, and yet his tweets remain unflagged on Twitter’s platform,” Gardner said.
Rather than simply addressing blatant issues of obscenity or violence, commonly regarded as justifiable content for platforms to censor under the First Amendment, “Twitter has chosen to approach content moderation from the standpoint of combating misinformation as well,” Gardner said.
“So, it’s strange to me that you’ve flagged the tweets from the president but haven’t hidden the ayatollah’s tweets on Holocaust denial or calls to wipe Israel off the map,” he continued, “and that you can’t recall off the top of your head hidden or deleted tweets from other world leaders.”
Dorsey responded by revealing that Twitter’s policies for regulating misinformation broke down into three categories—all of which conveniently appeared targeted toward undermining the recent arguments made by Trump and his supporters.
Those categories are: “manipulated media; public health (specifically COVID); and civic integrity, election interference and voter suppression,” Dorsey said.
“That is all we have a policy on for misleading information,” he said. “We do not have policy or enforcement for any of the other types of misleading information that you’re mentioning.”
Dorsey noted that separate policies related to violence or harassment might also apply, but he failed to articulate why such policies seemed to be enforced disproportionately against conservatives.
He coyly denied a question from Cruz over whether he thought Twitter had the power to influence elections.
“People have the choice of other communication channels with which…” he began thinly, but was quickly cut off.
“If you don’t think you have the power to influence elections, why do you block anything” Cruz asked, cutting to the point.
“We have policies that are focused on making sure that more voices on the platform are possible,” Dorsey then claimed. “We see a lot of abuse and harassment which ends up silencing people and having them leave from the platform.”
Sen. John Thune, R-SD, best gave voice to the concern that social media’s nebulous policies were generating more suspicion than trust.
Thune said that the companies’ efforts to keep a lid on their trade secrets—such as the algorithmic methods used for generating unique, user-based content—had a downside in that they also obscured the content-moderation practices.
“It’s been impossible to prove one way or another whether political bias exists, so users are stuck with anecdotal information that frequently seems to confirm their worst fears,” he said.
“My Democratic colleagues suggest that when we criticize the bias against conservatives that we’re somehow ‘working the refs,’ he continued. “But the analogy of ‘working the refs’ assumes that it’s legitimate even to think of you as refs. It assumes that you three Silicon Valley CEOs get to decide what political speech gets amplified or suppressed.”
Thune then asked each of the three executives if they viewed themselves as referees of political speech and arbiters of truth.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg immediately replied that he did not wish for the company to have that role.
Dorsey, however, paused for several seconds before responding with a terse “No.”