April 11, 2019
These days, censorship can be a full-time business -- just ask Twitter. Wednesday, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) did, holding a special hearing in a Judiciary subcommittee about the pattern of social media bias. And not a moment too soon, based on what's happening to pro-lifers. For people like Tennessee's Marsha Blackburn (R) or the makers of Unplanned, the question isn't whether there's discrimination, but how much there is.
Senator Cruz gave a nod to that in his opening remarks, pointing out that it's no longer a problem Americans can just ignore. "A great many people agree that the pattern -- the anti-conservative bias and the pattern of censorship we're seeing from big tech -- is disturbing." And that's a problem, he went on, because "by almost any measure, the giant tech companies today are larger and more powerful than Standard Oil was when it was broken up [in 1911]. They are larger and more powerful than AT&T when it was broken up [in 1982]. And if we have tech companies using the power of monopoly to sanction political speech, I think that raises real anti-trust issues."
The star witnesses, Twitter Director of Public Policy and Philanthropy Carlos Monje Jr. and Facebook Public Policy Director Neil Potts, for their parts, did acknowledge some of the company's past mistakes. At one point, Monje even apologized to Senator Blackburn for barring one of her campaign ads that targeted Planned Parenthood's baby body parts ring. "We made the wrong call," he said. "We develop policies governing advertisements that run on Twitter that try to balance allowing our advertisers to promote messages with protecting individuals who did not ask to see that ad. I am sorry."
At other points, the Twitter rep stumbled through an answer about the new movie about Abby Johnson -- Unplanned -- whose account mysteriously vanished after shattering expectations at the box office. "The individual who started the @UnplannedMovie account had previously been suspended for breaking our rules and as a result, our automated systems flagged that account and it was taken down for an hour." That's interesting, Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) jumped in, since Twitter usually blames algorithms or other computer-driven formulas for these mistakes.
"You say now, you've admitted that there is human involvement in these decisions, that there are, in fact, numerous people involved, there are protocols, but you won't make them public, is that right?" Hawley asked. That's when Monje got annoyed, firing back that he'd explained why Unplanned and a handful of others were targeted. "If you want more details, you can ask [them]," he argued. Well, Hawley pointed out, "You say you're a pro-transparency company." Prove it, he suggested. "Release your protocols. Make them public." Monje shifted uncomfortably and responded that "Our team will get back to you soon."
At one point, in the questioning of Potts, Cruz tried to smoke out the company's liberal leanings by asking, "Does Facebook consider the statement that there are two genders to be hate speech?" Potts seemed confused and said "depend[ed] on how that was shared." "I would have to find out," he said to the amazement of Ted Cruz and the millions of other Americans who've been operating by the scientific reality of two genders for several millennia. "I asked Facebook in writing if some of the views [about marriage] if they are deemed hate speech and Facebook refused to answer."
Unlike Twitter, though, Facebook is at least allowing the Senate to independently review their practices and systems -- something Monje wouldn't agree to. "[That] shows that you're anything but transparent," Hawley argued, "and you apparently have no interest in becoming transparent. This is a huge, huge problem, and I would hope for the sake of the customers you serve and the values you purport to represent, that you would change your behavior and to change your commitments to providing a neutral, unbiased platform for all users in this country."
Apple, meanwhile, wasn't part of the hearing, but its double standard continues to astound. Over in China, Tim Cook's company has essentially become an arm of the communist state, agreeing to blacklist songs and other content that mentions "democracy" or other human rights violations. This is a tech giant, who insists it can't partner with states that believe in religious liberty -- but who is apparently perfectly fine covering up a regime's nightmarish record on human rights -- including horrible crimes against the LGBT community it claims to support.
At the end of the day, what most Americans want is neutrality -- or at least consistency. If companies like Twitter hold themselves out as a virtual public square, then they can't kick people out just because they disagree with their political or moral views. There's this growing concern that Big Tech is picking and choosing who can speak on their platforms -- which might help explain why there's been a jump in the number of Americans who want to see more government regulation. And in the end, that isn't the best answer. Responsible ownership is.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.