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'The Greatest Threat to Free and Fair Elections': Facebook, Twitter, Google Hammered in Senate Censorship Hearing

10-28-2020
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The heads of the three major social media companies testified about alleged censorship on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

Lawmakers questioned whether Facebook, Twitter, and Google are playing partisan politics this close to the presidential election.

The catalyst: Twitter and Facebook blocking or limiting access to a New York Post report on former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden because they deemed it questionable. 

"The three groups we have represented today pose, I believe the single greatest threat to free speech in America and the greatest threat we have to free and fair elections," said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

The three CEOs appeared virtually before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Cruz lit into them, especially Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey.

"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 questioned. "And why do you insist on behaving as a Democratic Super PAC?"

"We're not doing that," Dorsey insisted. "And this is why I opened the hearing with calls for more transparency. We realize we need to earn trust more."

Just two weeks ago, Twitter blocked the New York Post from sharing their reporting about a laptop found in Delaware and newly discovered emails found on the laptop. They reportedly indicated Hunter Biden had set up a meeting between the head of a Ukraine gas company, where he was a board member and his father who was the vice president at the time. Twitter also locked the New York Post's account, citing concerns the paper may have been sharing hacked material.

"Our team made a fast decision," Dorsey said. "The enforcement action of blocking URLs and direct messages we believe was incorrect and we changed it."

Republicans asked why social media companies don't treat everyone the same.

"For example. when the President's tax returns were leaked, neither company acted to restrict access," Sen. Roger Wicker (R- Miss) said.  "Similarly, the now-discredited Steele Dossier was distributed without fact-checking."

Another big issue talked about was Section 230, a law that provides immunity from liability for providers that publish information by third party users. President Trump has called for the law's repeal. 

"Section 230 is a most important law protecting internet speech and removing Section 230 will remove speech from the internet," Dorsey said.

The company heads say they are doing more than ever to quell violence and crime citing the attempted kidnapping of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.  

"We identified that a signal to the FBI, I think it was about six months ago when we started to see some suspicious activity on our platform," said Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. "We've disrupted more than 100 networks coming from Russia, Iran, China, and more that were misleading people about who they are and what they're doing including three just this week."

Democrats called the hearing a sham, noting that it happened less than a week before the election.

"I am appalled that my Republican colleagues are holding this hearing literally days before an election when they seem to want to bully and browbeat the platforms here to tilt them in President Trump's favor," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D - Conn)

'Let me be clear. We approach our work without political bias, full stop," said Google CEO Sundar Pichai. "To do otherwise would be contrary to both our business interests and our mission.

Each CEO was asked point-blank if they consider themselves to be the referee for free speech in this country.  Each responded "no."

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