Update (1215ET): Sen. Ted Cruz and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey faced off once again on Tuesday as the senator prodded Dorsey to take responsibility for censoring conservative voices and Republican politicians over “selectively enforced” aspects of Twitter’s terms of service. Dorsey insisted that Twitter isn’t a publisher, but a neutral platform, a position he has hewed to during every appearance in front of Congress.
At the end of the back-and-forth, Cruz demanded that Twitter and Facebook produce a comprehensive list of all Democrats, and all Republicans, who were censored during the last three elections – 2020, 2018 and 2016.
GET HIM!! @tedcruz
— DigiKai Marketing (@digikai_mj) November 17, 2020
Dorsey’s evasive response focused on pursuing a “broader version” of transparency. When Cruz called upon Zuckerberg to answer the same question, he insisted that he would need to check and see if Facebook even had that data.
* * *
Update (1115ET): Connecticut’s senior Senator, Democrat Richard “Dick” Blumenthal, was among the first lawmakers to speak during Tuesday’s hearing. Bloomy demanded that a breakup of Facebook, including spinoffs of Instagram and Whatsapp, must be “on the table, before launching into a self-serving tangent recounting his accomplishments in prosecuting sexual predators in the Nutmeg state.
Meanwhile, in response to a question from John Cornyn, a member of the GOP leadership, asked Dorsey if censoring the NY Post stories about Hunter Biden was done in accordance with the app’s terms of service. When Cornyn suggested that the censorship actually gave the story more oxygen, Dorsey acknowledged that it had been a “mistake”.
During his opening remarks, Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham accused Twitter of making itself the de facto editor of the New York Post, and accused the company of “overriding” the Post’s decision to publish.
“What I want to try to find out is, if you’re not a newspaper at Twitter or Facebook, then why do you have editorial control over the New York Post?”
Both Twitter and Facebook censored the story when it was published during the last leg of the campaign.
* * *
Update (0955ET): It’s showtime, people.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will be streaming the hearing (much of which will take place remotely) below:
We’ll post any highlights later.
* * *
Two of Silicon Valley’s top tech CEOs, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, will appear Tuesday morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee (led by a newly reelected Lindsey Graham) in their first post-election Congressional hearing.
This isn’t the first time the two men have appeared before the Congress in 2020: there have been at least two big hearings with a mix of CEOs from the various American tech megacaps before this, focusing mostly on election interference (for the Dems) and censorship of conservative voices (for the GOP).
This time around, the animus behind the hastily organized hearing is pretty clear: With President Trump and his team coming up empty-handed in their push to challenge the election results, both CEOs will once again be pressed on efforts to tip the scales in Biden’s favor.
But this time around, the social media culture war isn’t their only concern: with the rise of Parler, a new anti-censorship social media platform that has been courting conservative influencers, is becoming a real problem for Twitter. Over the past few years, frustration with Big Tech’s personal-data abuses has led both Democrats and Republicans to support an anti-monopoly review.
However, Joe Biden has notably been filling his transition team with “inside players” from the tech world. Yesterday, Politico published a story examining the “tug of war” going on inside the Biden transition team. During the campaign, many Biden campaign officials felt that Facebook was the real opponent, given the overwhelming popularity of a handful of conservative commentators who rely on FB to reach a base of older consumers.
Former Facebook board member Jeff Zients is co-chairing Biden’s transition team, and another former board member is an adviser. Two others, one who was a Facebook director, and another who was a company lobbyist, have taken leadership roles. Biden himself has a friendly relationship with former UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who was essentially purchased by Zuckerberg to act as a sort of political buffer.
During their last appearance before the Judiciary Committee back in October, the two CEOs (alongside Google’s Sundar Pichai) were pressed to explain why they suppressed a New York Post story exposing private emails from Hunter Biden purporting to show that his father’s comments about having never discussed business with his son were untrue. At the time, they conceded that there was zero evidence the story was the work of Russian hackers, or a foreign adversary, as was widely – and baselessly – reported by the MSM.
Changing or even removing Section 230 protections for social media companies bestowed by the Communications Decency Act will likely be discussed, as both CEOs could be pressed to defend the reasoning for these protections and why they should continue to exist.
According to Bloomberg, which got a sneak peak of some of Dorsey’s testimony, Dorsey is planning to tell Congress that he’s open to changes to the liability shield that would place more of a burden on tech firms to remove posts, however, according to Dorsey, changes should be made slowly and methodically to help avoid unintended consequences.
“Completely eliminating Section 230 or prescribing reactionary government speech mandates will neither address concerns nor align with the First Amendment,” according to Dorsey’s remarks. Lawmakers from both parties have criticized the law, but many Republicans have sought changes to force the companies to leave up more conservative content.
According to CNBC, which saw a copy of Dorsey’s testimony, the CEO is expected to highlight that it’s work is not done, and it’s still working to refine its systems, after labeling more than 300,000 tweets during the election. Both Dorsey and Zuckerberg are expected to try and extend a hand to lawmakers, but it’s doubtful any Republicans or progressive Dems will take it.
Sen. Josh Hawley also hinted at some fireworks to come, saying he has spoken to an insider who revealed a coordinated campaign to censor conservative voices. The senator promised to ask Zuck and Dorsey about the effort during the hearing.
I’ve heard from @Facebook whistleblower who revealed @Facebook and @Google and @Twitter coordinate to censor. Facebook has an internal platform to manage it. I’ll be asking Mark Zuckerberg and @jack about this at tomorrow’s hearing
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) November 16, 2020
Readers might remember during Dorsey’s last appearance on Capitol Hill when Sen. Ted Cruz exploded on him after Dorsey acknowledged that Twitter allowed mobs of hypersensitive leftists to censor conservatives by abusing the report post feature.
“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 shouted on camera.
Tuesday’s hearing is set to begin at 1000ET.