Chief executives of four of the nation’s largest tech giants testified before House lawmakers Wednesday in a wide-ranging hearing that featured questions from topics of privacy and U.S. loyalty to accusations of anticompetitive market practices and conservative censorship.
Company CEOs Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Tim Cook of Apple, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and Sundar Pichai of Google were each grilled by members of the House Judiciary’s subcommittee on antitrust as big tech faces its 21st-century “Big Tobacco moment” while Congress takes up the most bipartisan issue in Washington to regulate big tech in an era of intense polarization.
One chief tech executive was notably absent from the virtual panel of the internet’s most powerful men: Jack Dorsey of Twitter.
As Republicans made well-founded allegations of high-profile suppression of conservative speech on the internet, Twitter, a platform that has emerged as a primary culprit in online censorship, wasn’t there for questioning even as the social media company has ramped up its untrustworthy fact-checking. Some of the tech giant’s recent censorship has included President Donald Trump tweets that raised valid concerns over mail-in voting. Others have included the censoring conservative accounts for politically incorrect content even as simple as posting the question, “Where’s Hunter, Fat?“
The company’s absence was so felt that one congressman even asked Facebook’s CEO about censorship on Twitter, a slip-up that scored the ranking Republican mockery online for mixing up the two websites.
At another point, Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan laid into Twitter, specifically calling out the platform’s shadow banning of several prominent Republican congressmen.
“I’ll just cut to the chase, big tech is out to get conservatives,” Jordan said, going on to review a long list of episodes where conservatives were subjected to undue censorship, including Google’s recent threats to demonetize The Federalist. Read more on that here.
“We asked for you guys to invite [Dorsey] as one of our witnesses and you guys said no,” Jordan said, addressing the Democrats on the subcommittee. “Two years ago, they shadow-banned two members of this committee. Four members of Congress were shadow-banned two years ago… Of course what did Mr. Dorsey tell us? He said ‘oh it was just a glitch in our algorithm’… If I had a nickel for every time I heard it was just a glitch, I wouldn’t be as wealthy as our witnesses but I’d be doing alright.”
On the same day, a representative for Twitter testified before the Israeli legislature attempting to justify its censorship of Trump while allowing Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei to freely wage war on the platform and call for genocide.
“You have recently started flagging the tweets of President Trump. Why have you not flagged the tweets of Iran’s Ayatollah Khameinei, who has literally called for the genocide of Israel and the Jewish people?” asked human rights attorney Arsen Ostrovsky.
“We have an approach to world leaders that presently say that direct interactions with fellow public figures, comments on political issues of the day, or foreign policy saber-rattling on military, economic issues are generally not in violation,” responded Twitter’s Ylwa Pettersson.
I kid you not! At Knesset hearing on Antisemitism, @Twitter rep tells me they flag @realDonaldTrump because it serves ‘public conversation’, but not Iran's @khamenei_ir call for GENOCIDE, which passes for acceptable 'commentary on political issues of the day'. cc. @CotlerWunsh pic.twitter.com/AXwjkrvlql
— Arsen Ostrovsky (@Ostrov_A) July 29, 2020
— Ajit Pai (@AjitPaiFCC) May 29, 2020
Censorship double-standards aside, and there are no shortage of examples, it was just two weeks ago that Twitter suffered a massive security breach. It compromised the accounts of some of the world’s most powerful figures, including former President Barack Obama and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in an elaborate Bitcoin scam. One could only imagine the damage terrorist hackers could do to if capturing control of Trump’s Twitter account, where each post is an official White House statement.
The debacle prompted Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley to demand the company cooperate with the FBI and Justice Department to “secure the site.”
“As you know, millions of your users rely on your service not just to tweet publicly but also to communicate privately through your direct message service,” Hawley wrote. “A successful attack on your system’s servers represents a threat to all of your users’ privacy and data security.”
Given Twitter’s political censorship less than 100 days until the November election combined with it now posing a national security threat, it’s one tech giant whose absence was felt on Wednesday.