U.S. lawmakers grilled CEOs from Facebook, Twitter, and Google on Wednesday about censorship of content on their platforms, including that of President Donald Trump in contrast to foreign dictators.
Sen. Roger Wicker, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, took aim at Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, saying, “Mr. Dorsey, your platform allows foreign dictators to post propaganda typically without restriction, yet you routinely restrict the President of the United States.”
Wicker pointed to China’s tweet blaming the U.S. military for the COVID-19 pandemic, which was left up for two months before Twitter added a fact-checking label. In contrast, Trump’s tweet about the security of mail-in ballots received a fact-checking label almost immediately, Wicker said.
Wicker also pointed out tweets from Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which pledge to destroy Israel or support any nation that will do the same, remain on the platform and unflagged.
“We believe it’s important for everyone to hear from global leaders,” Dorsey said. “We want to make sure we are respecting their right to speak and to publish what they need.”
Dorsey said Twitter didn’t find the Ayatollah’s tweets to be in violation of the platform’s policy because they deemed it “saber-rattling.”
Wicker pointed out that the three top platforms have been engaging in selective censorship and a lack of transparency, which has grown increasingly harmful amid the country’s election cycle.
“These companies are controlling the overwhelming flow of news and information that the public can share and access,” Wicker said. “These platforms have become powerful arbiters of what is true and what content users can access. The American public gets little access into the decision making process when content is moderated and users have little recourse when they are censored or restricted.”
Sen. Ted Cruz also grilled the CEOs, telling Dorsey, “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?”
Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, also spoke to the CEOs, but remarked that the hearing should not interfere with the platforms’ efforts to combat misinformation and hate speech.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook has taken action against hate speech, such as banning white supremacists and treating them as terrorists, in addition to removing extremist pages from recommendations. He also pointed out that Facebook has been able to identify suspicious or dangerous behavior and report it to law enforcement authorities, such as in the recent case of the kidnapping plot against Michigan Gov. Whitmer.