Senate Demands Techs and Balances

November 18, 2020

"Smaller companies don't have the resources" to "prevent the next Trump situation," a Big Tech exec said to an undercover reporter last summer. Google, Twitter, and Facebook, she bragged, do. One year, thousands of censored posts, and a presidential election later, Americans are starting to understand just how far Big Tech will go to manipulate the democratic process. "Facebook and Twitter and Google have massive power," Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) argued. "They have a monopoly on public discourse in the online arena." And that monopoly, the GOP argued in a Senate hearing Tuesday, was hard at work -- shutting down any speech that could hurt their radical cause.

One after another, Republicans took turns grilling Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter chief Jack Dorsey. They took aim at their suppression of conservative ads, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris's social record, the truth about voter fraud, and even the president of the United States himself. They "lure" users in, Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) said, promising them "an unbiased experience." "In practice what they're doing is steadily putting their thumb on the left side of the scale. That's a problem."

It's even more of a problem, Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) insisted, if these platforms are coordinating their censorship behind the scenes -- which, new evidence shows, is exactly what Facebook, Twitter, and Google are doing. A whistleblower who contacted Hawley warned him of a sweeping and coordinated campaign to silence conservatives across the internet. According to people inside Facebook, a program called "Tasks" lets the company communicate with its counterparts at Google and Twitter to make sure they're all blocking the same people, websites, and hashtags. And what was Zuckerberg's response to this bombshell? "[It's] probably pretty normal for people to talk to their peers in the industry." This is not "people talking to their peers." This is an army of First Amendment suppressors with their finger on the mute button of your free speech rights.

Just as horrifying, Facebook's CEO admitted later (though, conveniently, not under oath) that the company is spying on users all across the world without their knowledge. "We have evidence of Facebook tracking its own users all across the web," Hawley said. And yet, "Mr. Zuckerberg won't answer questions about it, can't remember the name, isn't sure if the tool's deployed in this way and won't commit to giving us basic information." That amnesia miraculously cleared up after the hearing, when officials from Zuckerberg's office confirmed that the program called Centra did exist after all.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) didn't pull any punches either, drilling Dorsey over the phony labels Twitter keeps slapping on posts about voter fraud. Are you an expert in voter fraud?" Cruz asked. "No I'm not," replied Dorsey. "Why, then, is Twitter now putting purported warnings on virtually any statement about voter fraud?" the Texas senator demanded to know, pointing to entire groups that had been shut down because they questioned the election results. "We're simply linking to a broader conversation so that people have more information," the Twitter CEO tried to explain. "No you're not," Cruz fired back. "You put up a page saying, quote, 'voter fraud of any kind is exceedingly rare in the United States.' That's not linking to a broader conversation, that's taking a disputed policy position..." Which is yet another reason, he insisted, that these platforms need to be held liable.

What about before the election, Lee pressed? If Facebook is so unbiased, why did it pull down ads about Joe Biden and Kamala Harris's abortion views? Those are actual facts, confirmed by their voting records and public statements. "Joe Biden has stated that he won't accept any restrictions on abortion, and Senator Harris' views are such that she voted against requiring care for a child born alive during a botched abortion." And yet, he shook his head, it took two weeks for those ads to be reinstated -- late into October, when most Americans had already early voted. Zuckerberg said it must have been a "mistake." Funny, Lee said. Those "mistakes" only seem to happen on one side of the political spectrum.

If it were human error, Lee agreed, that's one thing. "But... maybe some of it has to do with your employees -- 92.8 percent of [whom] donated to... Democrats. At Twitter," he cautioned, "it's even more stark than that -- as if it could get much [starker], but 99.3 percent of Twitter employees... gave to Democrats." So is it really a coincidence that these issues only seem to affect Republicans, conservatives, and pro-life activists? Hardly.

Democrats, meanwhile, were just as upset with the CEOs -- not because they censored Americans, but because they didn't censor them enough. "One of the most chilling aspects of today's hearing in the Judiciary Committee was Senate Democrat after Senate Democrat, their questions were essentially... 'Why don't you censor more? Why do you allow these views we don't like to be heard or to exist?' I think that is really, really dangerous. And I do think you're going to see the abuses of power get worse in coming years with -- aided and abetted by Democrats that want to silence someone who disagrees."

Together, Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) insisted, they're driving the cancel culture consuming America. And if they can't find "the will, strength, and ability" to accept their responsibility and fix this, she warned, Congress will.