It quickly became apparent at a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing Tuesday that the perception of whether social media is actively engaged in censorship depends upon party affiliation.
U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-SC, and other GOP Senators blasted Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for engaging in selective censorship of Republican content on their platforms to benefit Democrats in the Presidential election campaign.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, took the opposite view. He insisted the social media platforms were not engaging in censorship at all but merely exercising “moral and civic responsibility” to limit misleading content. He said the platforms must do far more to “fact check to avoid amplifying misinformation” in the future.
The hearing was held to discuss potential changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which exempts social media platforms from legal liability for content published on their platforms.
More or Less?
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, noted the irony that Democrats, one-time champions of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of free speech and a free press, are now demanding ever more censorship by social media platforms.
“Consistently the message from Senate Democrats is for Facebook and Twitter and Google to censor more… To silence voices that Senate Democrats disagree with more. That is very dangerous if we want to maintain a free and fsair democracy,” he said.
Cruz pointed to “absolute silence” by Democrats with respect to censorship of media outlets and citizens by big tech. “That’s a totalitarian instinct that I think is very dangerous,” he said.
Cruz asked Dorsey for a commitment to investigate and report upon how many times it has blocked content by Democrats as opposed to Republicans. Dorsey declined to do so.
Suppression of Hunter Biden Laptop
The GOP repeatedly returned to Facebook and Twitter’s allegedly selective enforcement actions with respect to GOP content as opposed to content by Democrats.
Dorsey admitted that Twitter made an “error” when it suppressed an article published in October by The New York Post about a laptop belonging to the son of Vice-President elect Joe Biden. Hunter Biden’s laptop contained emails indicating Biden’s family, and possibly Biden himself, was involved in an influence peddling scheme. Dorsey claimed Twitter corrected the mistake within 24 hours though it did not unlock The Post’s account for almost a week.
In addition to Facebook and Twitter, major media outlets suppressed the distribution of the story.
A recent post-election poll by the Media Research Center conducted by McLaughlin & Associates found that 36% of Biden voters were NOT aware of evidence linking Joe Biden to corrupt financial dealings with China; 13% of these voters said they would not have voted for Biden had they known.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-FL, said Twitter behaved as a publisher, not a neutral platform, when it was “editing, censoring and silencing” the content of the Post, the newspaper with the fourth highest circulation in the U.S.
A dictionary definition of “censorship” is to suppress or prohibit news that is “politically unacceptable.”
Cruz also asked why Twitter is now putting warning labels on tweets involving voter fraud in the Presidential election. “That’s taking a disputed policy position and you’re a publisher when you’re doing that,” he said. “[Y]ou don’t get to pretend that you’re not a publisher and get a special benefit under Section 230 as a result.”
Dorsey insisted Twitter was labelling materials so that voters could have “more context.”
There seemed near unanimity that social media platforms have too much power and need reined in. Several Senators talked about breaking up Facebook, claiming it has thwarted competition.