Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai are scheduled to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday.
The hearing takes place weeks after Republicans sent letters to the CEOs demanding transparency and accountability on censorship practices that have accelerated in recent months. A poll published on March 15 by Protocol notes that approximately 80 percent of Big Tech employees say their corporations are too powerful.
“House Republicans on Energy and Commerce will hold Big Tech accountable for failing to be good stewards on their platforms,” said a spokesman for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington. “There are many reasons why they have broken the American people’s trust, including how they have abused their power to censor and control political speech they disagree with.”
A report in 2019 showed that Twitter was banning eight to 10 million accounts each week. In the weeks that have followed the Capitol breach, the platform permanently banned former President Donald Trump and thousands of others. According to Facebook, a team of 35,000 employees removed more than 1.3 billion “fake accounts” between the months of October and December 2020 — as well as removed 12 million COVID-19-related content.
Google, along with all of Big Tech, removed public access to free-speech platform Parler in January and employs comprehensive algorithms to remove conservative content.
Among other items, House Republicans are demanding answers from the CEOs on why now-Vice President Kamala Harris’ post urging people to donate to the Minnesota Freedom Fund to bail out criminals was not in violation of terms and conditions that have been put in place to censor the right. The letter to Dorsey states:
On June 1, 2020, now-Vice President Kamala Harris posted “If you’re able to, chip in now to the Minnesota Freedom Fund to help post bail for those protesting on the ground in Minnesota” and linked to an ActBlue Fund. Please explain how this post does not violate Twitter’s policies.
A spokeswoman for Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., told The Federalist that the congressman supports an alteration to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. Section 230 says, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
“These tech giants’ refusal to be transparent about how they monitor content and restrict different users demonstrates their failed commitment to fairness,” Scalise’s spokeswoman said. “Democrats and Big Tech want to continue to project their left-wing partisanship on everyone and censor those who disagree. Unless Section 230 is changed, there is no protection of political speech or limit to the censorship conservatives will face in the future.”
In direct opposition to the GOP’s urging of Big Tech to cease its censorious measures, House Democrats sent letters to tech CEOs and 12 cable news outlets in February urging them to stop doing business with Fox News and other right-leaning outlets. This same week, the Energy and Commerce Committee held a “disinformation and extremism” hearing advocating for “hate-speech” restriction measures.
In July, Zuckerberg and Pichai joined Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Apple CEO Tim Cook in testifying before the House Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee. The group dodged questions on censorship, reiterating sentiments in support of arbitrarily defined terms and conditions. Dorsey told the Senate Judiciary Committee in November that Twitter has never censored Trump in response to a question by Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.
“Just to be clear, we have not censored the president,” Dorsey said.
The House Republicans demand the CEOs explain their processes for removal of content, identify how content is allowed to be redistributed, and explain what is defined as “illicit content.”
“Freedom of speech is the keystone of American democracy, and there’s no question that it’s under direct assault by Big Tech. Vague and subjective ‘community guidelines’ are enforced with glaring political bias, often silencing or de-platforming conservatives,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas told The Federalist.
Additionally, the lawmakers seek to understand “coordination” processes between Big Tech companies as to what is removed, how algorithms are established, and learn about all, if any, efforts by the companies to back local and traditional free press media outlets.
“They better be ready to answer these questions completely and honestly at the hearing,” Crenshaw added.