If you thought Google's cryfest after Donald Trump's election was extreme, wait a few months. Sundar Pichai's company could be on the verge of real anguish -- and not because of who wins. If you thought bipartisanship in Washington was dead, Wednesday's Senate hearing should have made it clear: there's one thing the two sides agree on, and that's reining in Big Tech. They may have different motives, but Republicans and Democrats have news for America's social media moguls -- the squirming has just begun. Unfortunately for conservatives, it will be too late. The damage in this election cycle has already been done.
Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Google's Sundar Pichai, and Twitter's Jack Dorsey have taken turns on the congressional hot seat before. But fresh off of their latest election interference, GOP senators were done playing nice. One after another they lit into the trio for trying to silence the breaking news about Hunter Biden's corrupt business deals. "Both Twitter and Facebook took steps to block or limit access to the story," committee chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) argued. "Facebook, according to its Policy Communications Manager, began 'reducing its distribution on [the] platform' pending a third-party fact check. Twitter went beyond that, blocking all users -- including the House Judiciary Committee -- from sharing the article on feeds and through direct messages. Twitter even locked the New York Post's account entirely, claiming the story included 'hacked materials' and was 'potentially harmful.'"
How is it, several Republicans demanded, that Twitter can blackout information it believes is suspect about the Bidens, but leaves every lie and conspiracy theory about President Trump untouched? It's a double standard, Wicker said angrily. Big Tech doesn't mind the wide distribution of a suspect New York Times story about the amount of taxes the president has paid, but it is literally tripping over itself to suppress negative news about Hunter Biden. This wasn't, as Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) fired back, "just some random guy tweeting [about Hunter]. The New York Post has the fourth-highest circulation of any newspaper in America. [It's] 200 years old... and your position is that you can sit in Silicon Valley and [tell] them what stories they can publish?" And the same goes for the American people, Cruz went on, "you can tell them what reporting they can hear, is that right?"
Neither Jack Dorsey (or his beard) had a good answer for that. In fact, he looked physically uncomfortable when Republicans brought up Twitter's Global Leaders Policy, which is how they justify blacking out Donald Trump's tweets while other world leaders post violent things without objection. Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for the destruction of Israel, many pointed out -- and somehow that doesn't violate the company's policy? "We did not find those to violate our terms of service," Dorsey replied, "because we consider them saber-rattling, which is part of the speech of world leaders in concert with other countries." The president's tweets, he claimed, are much more dangerous.
That's ridiculous, Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.) argued. "Your companies are inconsistently applying the rules with an obvious bias. Your companies are censoring free speech. You target the president, the White House press secretary, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life group, while giving dictators a free, unfettered platform." Together, they're nothing but a "democratic Super PAC," Cruz railed. Then, turning to Dorsey, he asked, "Does Twitter have the ability to influence elections?" "No," Jack answered. If you think that, Cruz fired back, "Why do you block anything?"
Even Democrats like Senators Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Jacky Rosen (Nev.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) agreed that it was time to revisit the liability shield that's given these companies immunity. "If nothing else," one commentator wrote, you couldn't walk away from the hearing without noticing the "bipartisan dislike and mistrust of social media platforms and a desire to do something about them."
That'll be a "rude awakening" for these companies, Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) said on radio Wednesday, especially since they've been working so hard to get Democrats elected. "I think they're going to be in the crosshairs of both parties [after the election]... There's going to be major congressional action" to take away a lot of the legal protection they've enjoyed. "That's going to hurt their bottom line," Comer warned. "And I think they'll regret... their bias toward conservatives."
But right now, he pointed out, "the Democrats are honestly in a win-win situation. They have [these platforms] banning any type of news that would harm Joe Biden... But at the same time... in six and a half months, [Democrats] are going to turn their backs on Big Tech [and regulate them] to break up the monopoly." If they do, and Republicans team up with them to hold Silicon Valley accountable, those companies won't look anything like they do now. Twitter, Facebook, Google -- they'll all be ravaged by trial attorneys. And not one conservative will mind. Collectively, Cruz warned, these companies pose "the single greatest threat to free speech in America, and the greatest threat we have to free and fair elections." They must be stopped.