Shortly after executives from Facebook and Twitter testified Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Justice Department announced a meeting with state attorneys general to discuss “growing concern” about censorship by social-media platforms, suggesting they are violating antitrust laws.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has scheduled the meeting for September, DOJ spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a statement, the Hill reported.
The objective, he said, will be “to discuss a growing concern that these companies may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms.”
Meanwhile, at the Senate hearing, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey responded to accusations by President Trump and other Republican leaders that Twitter, Facebook and Google engage in political bias against conservatives, insisting his company strives to be “impartial.”
“Let me be clear about one important and foundational fact: Twitter does not use political ideology to make any decisions, whether related to ranking content on our service or how we enforce our rules. We believe strongly in being impartial, and we strive to enforce our rules impartially,” Dorsey said in his prepared statement.
“We do not shadowban anyone based on political ideology. In fact, from a simple business perspective and to serve the public conversation, Twitter is incentivized to keep all voices on the platform,” he said.
In late July, as WND reported, Twitter issued a statement maintaining it did not shadowban, the practice of reducing the reach and visibility of tweets without informing the user. However, in an apparent contradiction, the statement noted that reading some tweets may require going directly to the timeline of some users. And Project Veritas recently featured video of a Twitter engineer admitting the majority of algorithms that filter out tweets are aimed at Republicans.
Dorsey later testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday Dorsey has at times favored allowing controversial personalities such as Infowars’ Alex Jones and white nationalist leader Richard Spencer on his social media platform, despite objections from some of Dorsey’s staff.
Politico reported Tuesday Twitter said not even President Trump is immune from being kicked off the platform if his tweets cross a line with abusive behavior.
Jones, who recently was banned by Twitter and other social media platforms, showed up at the Senate hearing, and before it began clashed in the hall with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., reported FoxNews.com
“I’ll take care of you myself,” Rubio warned after Jones interrupted an interview.
Jones called Rubio a “frat boy,” while Rubio insisted he didn’t know who Jones was, FoxNews.com said.
Rubio eventually left, telling media they could stay if they wanted to interview “this clown.”
See the clash:
— Cassandra Fairbanks (@CassandraRules) September 5, 2018
Facebook’s privacy crisis
Dorsey testified with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg about election meddling and abuse on their platforms. Google declined to send its CEO or parent company Alphabet’s CEO to testify.
Sandberg helped grow Facebook into a global advertising juggernaut with a market value of more than half a trillion dollars. But in March she and her communications team struggled to address the public’s mounting outrage over allegations the political firm Cambridge Analytica had properly accessed the accounts of 87 million members.
A Pew Research poll in early June, after the Cambridge Analytica revelation, showed 42 percent of Facebook members say they have taken a break from checking the platform for a period of several weeks or more.
In addition, 54 percent say they have adjusted their privacy settings in the past 12 months. And 26 percent say they have deleted the Facebook app from their cellphone. All together, 74 percent of Facebook users say they have taken at least one of these three actions in the past year.
Threats of regulation
Both Democrats and Republicans have discussed the possibility of addressing censorship concerns by weakening Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives websites legal immunity from content posted by users.
Dorsey argues the law allows the internet economy to flourish: “If we didn’t have that protection, we would not be able to do anything around harassment or to improve the safety or health of the conversation around the platform.”
The Twitter CEO also opposes the idea of regulating Twitter and other internet companies like a public utility. He contends top-down regulation doesn’t make sense “as long as we’re transparent around what’s guiding our decisions and enforcement, that we show willingness to evolve the rules as circumstances evolve.”
Twitter shares were down as much as 6 percent Wednesday during Dorsey’s Senate testimony.
Google no show
Senators scolded Google executives for not showing up to the hearings Wednesday. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence pointedly set up an empty chair to shame Google parent company Alphabet.
CNBC reported Google tried to send its top lawyer to the hearing on foreign interference in U.S. elections, but the committee wanted either CEO Larry Page or Sundar Pichai to testify alongside executives from Twitter and Facebook.
“I’m disappointed Google decided against sending the right senior level executive,” Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the chairman of the committee, said in his opening remarks.
The committee’s ranking member, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said he was “deeply disappointed that Google – one of the most influential digital platforms in the world – chose not to send its own top corporate leadership to engage this committee.”