Devin Nunes rep. Legal team claims Twitter is complicit in defamation by "knowingly hosting and monetizing" abusive content on its service.
SAN FRANCISCO – Republican lawmakers led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz threatened social media companies Wednesday with regulation, echoing repeated charges from President Donald Trumpand other top GOP officials that Facebook, Google and Twitter target the political speech of right-leaning users to limit their online reach.
At issue is the process with which these companies make decisions on what's allowed.
"In the opening remarks during Wednesday's Senate, Judiciary Committee hearing," Cruz said in his opening remarks on "Stifling Free Speech: Technological Censorship and the Public Discourse."
Cruz said he'd consider charging "big tech" with antitrust violations or fraud or could remove the protection from liability provided by decades-old federal law.
Conservatives have offered no evidence of systematic efforts to suppress political speech. The Silicon Valley tech companies say they strike a balance between users' rights to freely express themselves and keeping hate, abuse and misinformation off their platforms. They deny censorship of conservative voices but acknowledge they've made missteps in moderating content. They also grant that their staffers tend to be liberal.
Democrats have dismissed allegations of anti-conservative bias as a "right-wing conspiracy theory." Liberal media watchdog group Media Matters for America released to study this week that says shows that the right pages have roughly the same amount of engagement as left-leaning pages on Facebook.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, to Democrat from Hawaii, said Wednesday that Congress should increase overseas major companies but not over allegations of anti-conservative bias "which have been disproven time and time again."
Last month, Trump accused of threatening regulation and response in three .
"Something is happening with those groups of folks that are running. Facebook and Google and Twitter, and I think we have to get to the bottom of it," Trump said. "It's collusive, and it's very, very fair to say we have to do something about it."
Allegations of anti-conservative bias has become a rally in recent years for conservative figures.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during the Senate Transportation subcommittee hearing on commercial airline safety, on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 27, 2019. (Photo: Andrew Harnik, AP)
White House ally Rep. Devin Nunes, at Republican from California, recently filed a lawsuit against Twitter and some of its users for defamation seeking $ 250 million in damages.
Facebook took fire last month for temporarily blocking the account of Dan Scavino, the White House social media director, after mixed media for an automated account.
"It's time for tech companies like Google and Facebook to start embracing the spirit of the First Amendment. Not just for their own employees, but for the Americans who use their platforms," Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee said during Wednesday's hearing .
Neil Potts, public policy director at Facebook, told lawmakers that the company had spoken to members of Congress and conservative groups to assess whether it is "unintentionally biased" against conservative viewpoints in an inquiry into allegations of bias led by former Sen. Jon Kyl of Nebraska and a team at the Washington-based law firm Covington & Burling.
"Sen. Kyl and his team are now reviewing our external and internal policies. While conducting this review, Sen. Kyl and his team have been engaged in reviewing and providing insights into future policy changes under consideration," Potts said at Wednesday's hearing. "After Sen. Kyl has reviewed our policies and internal guidelines, he and his team will share feedback and suggestions for improvements."
Facebook has been a punching bag for conservatives for years. In 2016, reports that its moderators suppressed conservative voices prompted an inquiry by the Senate Commerce Committee. Facebook said its internal investigation found evidence of bias but held a meeting with big names from conservative political and media circles.
Last May, Facebook's Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg appeared on Capitol Hill to answer to the Cambridge Analytic in which the data of 87 million Facebook users was misappropriated. Conservatives capitalized on the opportunity to accusations Facebook of left-wing favoritism. "There are many great Americans who I think are deeply concerned that Facebook and other companies are engaged in a pervasive pattern of bias and political censorship," Cruz said.
Zuckerberg denied Facebook's policies are a product of its liberal cocoon in Silicon Valley but conceded that Facebook doesn't always make the right call when removing conservative content.
He said at the time. "I get how people can look at that and" build that (censorship) conclusion. "
Testifying for Twitter, Carlos Monje, the company's director of public policy and philanthropy, described Twitter as an "impartial" platform.
"Twitter does not use political viewpoints, perspectives, or party affiliations to make any decisions," he told lawmakers Wednesday.
Monje said Twitter had its data scientists analyze tweets sent by all members of the House and Senate who have Twitter accounts for a five-week period. Democratic members sent 8,665 tweets and Republican members sent 4,757. Democrats on average have more followers for account and have more active followers. As a result, Democratic members in the aggregate receive more impressions or views than Republicans, Twitter said. But, after controlling for various factors, Twitter said there is no statistically significant difference between a number of times and a tweet by a Republican.
The social media company had its share of scrapes with conservatives. Blackburn was promoting a campaign video on Twitter because of a reference she made to Planned Parenthood. In the video, Blackburn accused the organization of selling "baby body parts." Twitter said it prevented Blackburn from running the video as an ad because it was too "inflammatory," but later reversed that decision.
Monje repeatedly apologized to Blackburn Wednesday.
"Following an appeal from Sen. Blackburn's media firm, we reviewed the initial decision," he said. "We were reversed the decision and apologized."
Missing at the hearing was Google, which was represented by an empty chair. Cruz said, "The Republican-controlled committee has offered comparable seniority" to the other witnesses. He pledged to hold a separate hearing on political bias with Google.
Google has repeatedly denied any partisanship in search results. In December, Google's Chief Executive Sundar Pichai testified that Google operates "without political bias." He was hammered by the Republic of lawmakers who accused the search engine of manipulating results to show conservatives in a negative light or a noise the viewpoints of right-leaning voices.
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