Democrats accuse GOP of trying to ‘browbeat’ tech execs with hearing ahead of Election Day
Democratic senators accused their Republican colleagues of trying to “browbeat” tech executives at a committee hearing Wednesday on Section 230 protections ahead of Election Day.
The hearing was called to analyze the Big Tech protections, which keep social media platforms from being liable for statements made through their services. The hearing was called after social media platforms limited circulation of a New York Post story about Hunter Biden that reflected poorly on his father, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
As Republicans hounded Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO; Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO; and Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google’s Alphabet, Inc., about why they’d censored the story, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., accused them of trying to “bully and browbeat the platforms here to try and tilt them toward favoring President Trump.”
Blumenthal asked the companies if they had plans for how to reign in President Trump if he tried to delegitimize the election or call election results too early.
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Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., accused Republicans of politicizing the hearing, before questioning why her own legislation had stalled in the Senate.
“I want to note first that this hearing comes six days before Election Day and, I believe, we’re politicizing and the Republican majority is politicizing what should actually not be a partisan topic,” she said.
Klobuchar’s Honest Ads Act aims to increase digital political advertising transparency and bolster election security, but failed to gain broader support from Republicans.
She also pressed Zuckerberg on whether his company had spent money to block the bill. Zuckerberg said it hadn’t, and he’d publicly expressed support for the bill.
Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, even accused tech CEOs of “bend[ing] over backwards” to Republican complaints of bias, and urged them to “stand up against this immoral behavior.”
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“We have to call this hearing what it is – it’s a sham,” Schatz said.
He added: “Do not let the U.S. Senate bully you into carrying water for those who want to advance misinformation. Don’t let the specter of removing 230 protections, amending antitrust law, or any other kinds of threats push you to be a party to the subversion of our democracy.”
GOP lawmakers looking to strip Section 230 protections claim that by selectively censoring posts due to their content — beyond typical terms of service prohibiting offensive or harassing statements — the tech companies are taking an active approach akin to a publisher instead of merely providing a platform where individual users post whatever statements they want.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, blasted Dorsey, asking the Twitter CEO “who the hell elected you” for censoring what media outlets report on. He noted that a New York Times report about the president’s tax returns was not held to the same level of scrutiny, even though they appeared to be leaked illegally.
“Mr. Dorsey, who the hell elected you and put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report and what the American people are allowed to hear, and why do you persist in behaving as a Democratic super PAC silencing views to the contrary of your political beliefs?” the Texas Republican asked.
Dorsey claimed that this was not the case. He also denied that Twitter has the ability to influence elections, a claim that Cruz derided as “absurd.”
“You’re testifying to this committee right now that Twitter, when it silences people, when it censors people, when it blocks political speech, that has no impact on elections?”
“People have choice of other communication channels,” Dorsey said.
“Not if they don’t hear information,” Cruz shot back. “If you don’t think you have the power to influence elections, why do you block anything?”
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Dorsey claimed that his policies are “making sure more that voices on the platform are possible,” which is done by silencing abuse and harassment. He did admit that the policy under which the Post story was censored was flawed, and that other users should not have been blocked from sharing links to it.
Fox News’ Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report.