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Tags: free speech | Senate

Free Speech Teeters on Tweet Censorship During Senate Hearings

dorsey on video as a committee member sits and listens in person

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey appears on a screen as he speaks remotely during a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, in Washington. (Michael Reynolds/Pool via AP)

By Monday, 02 November 2020 11:03 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Twitter Inc. CEO Jack Dorsey, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google-Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai were featured in what Wall Street Journal editors aptly described as a “depressing spectacle” during last week’s Senate Commerce Committee hearings titled “Does Section 230’s Sweeping Immunity Enable Big Tech Bad Behavior?”

Under provisions of a 1996 law known as the Communications Decency Act, Section 230 currently awards the tech giants broad legal immunity from liability for user-generated content along with wide latitude to control what appears on their platforms.

Committee Republicans are calling into question transparent and repeated biases that have resulted in censorship of conservative views, most particularly since the 2016 Trump election.

No interference offenses are more blatant than Twitter’s, and to a somewhat lesser degree, Facebook’s, blocking of platform links to recent New York Post  revelations of Biden family scandals involving murky foreign business dealings.

Facebook’s Zuckerberg argued that his company’s delay in releasing the article was to allow time for their own fact checkers to vet it. 

Such censorship was spectacularly noteworthy not only because of its vital time-critical importance to inform November 3 voters, but also because it was the first-ever such action against a legitimate and thoroughly sourced news article by a major publisher – the oldest and fourth- or fifth largest in the United States.

It’s not as if broad awareness of ideological liberal bias on the part of Big Tech companies is a new phenomenon. An August 2020 Pew Research Center survey determined that roughly three-quarters of U.S. adults said it is “very likely,” or “somewhat likely,” that social media sites ”intentionally censor political viewpoints that they find objectionable.”

Although this view is shared across the spectrum, it is particularly strong among Republicans.

That strongly left-tilting bias isn’t limited to top management. According to latest available data collected by OpenSecrets.org., Facebook and Twitter employees donated 10 times more to Democratic political campaigns and PACS this year ($2.7 million) than to Republicans ($222,000).

Although it’s unclear how many donations have been made, and how they varied in size, at Twitter, 98.99 percent - nearly $350,000 – went to Democrats. At Facebook, more than $2.5 million went to Democrats; less than $220,000 to Republicans.

This partisan employee donation disparity is likely a pittance, however, compared to potential corporate in-kind service contribution capacities to influence elections.

Republicans are pushing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to scale back what they regard as partisan Section 230 immunity abuses. Senate Commerce Committee chairman Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said that the protective shield has “given these internet platforms the ability to control, stifle and even censor content in whatever manner meets their respective ‘standards.’ The time has come for that free pass to end.”

Twitter’s Dorsey faced angry questioning from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas., accusing Twitter of acting as a “Democratic super PAC” when it acted to block platform users from linking to the Post articles. Sen. Cruz asked, “Who the hell elected you and put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report?”

Dorsey replied, “I hear concerns and acknowledge them,” but denied Twitter was favoring Democratic causes. He also said that his company will now allow posts about the articles to be passed along, although the Post’s Twitter account was originally to remain blocked until the newspaper deleted its own tweets.

Asked to explain why the links were blocked in the first place, Dorsey attributed the Post story blackout to “a hacked materials policy,” but nevertheless admitted to Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson that he had no evidence of Russian interference or fabrication.

CEO Dorsey also told Cruz that while he now believes the action blocking the links was “incorrect, and we changed it within 24 hours.” (However, the Post’s Twitter account reportedly remained blocked until October 30.)

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., wanted to know why Twitter decided to label some posts by President Trump as misleading, but not others by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei threatening Israel and denying the Holocaust. “I just don’t understand how Twitter can claim to want a world of less hate and misinformation while you simultaneously let the kind of content that the ayatollah has tweeted out to flourish,” he said.

Dorsey lamely explained that his company’s policies against inciting violence weren’t applied because the ayatollah’s statements were newsworthy as “saber-rattling which is part of the speech of world leaders,” whereas “Speech against a country’s own citizens, we believe, is different and could cause immediate harm.”

Following up on Sen. Gardner’s question, Sen. Wicker pointed out a another disconnect that Twitter took two months to add a warning label to Chinese propaganda suggesting the U.S. military brought the coronavirus to China.

Republican senators also brought up the facts that the New York Times story on the president’s illegally leaked tax returns wasn’t censored, and that the now thoroughly discredited “dirty” Steel dossier that served as the centerpiece of his impeachment was widely shared without fact-checking or disclaimers.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Mary Anastasia O’Grady’s article, “How Free Speech Dies,” urges us to recognize that the last refuge for free thinkers resides in the electronic media. In doing so, she reminds us to learn from experiences in Cuba, Venezuela and Daniel Ortega’s Nicaragua, where the media, in concert with regime-friendly businesses and collaborating journalists, decide what constitutes “fake” internet news with power to authorize and criminalize infractions of gag laws.

Ms. O’Grady concludes, “One is left to contemplate what might have been in any of these countries had open minds been ready to defend open society… And to further contemplate what is to become of open societies where minds close.”

And this, precisely, is what voters will hopefully not have to discover following the crucially consequential White House and Congressional outcomes of this week’s election.

Larry Bell is an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston where he founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) and the graduate program in space architecture. Larry has written more than 700 articles for Newsmax and Forbes and is the author of several books. Included are: "How Everything Happened, Including Us" (2020), "Cyberwarfare: Targeting America, Our Infrastructure and Our Future" (2020), "The Weaponization of AI and the Internet: How Global Networks of Infotech Overlords are Expanding Their Control Over Our Lives" (2019), "Reinventing Ourselves: How Technology is Rapidly and Radically Transforming Humanity" (2019), "Thinking Whole: Rejecting Half-Witted Left & Right Brain Limitations" (2018), "Reflections on Oceans and Puddles: One Hundred Reasons to be Enthusiastic, Grateful and Hopeful" (2017), "Cosmic Musings: Contemplating Life Beyond Self" (2016), "Scared Witless: Prophets and Profits of Climate Doom" (2015) and "Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax" (2011). He is currently working on a new book with Buzz Aldrin, "Beyond Footprints and Flagpoles." Read Larry Bell's Reports — More Here.

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Twitter Inc. CEO Jack Dorsey, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google-Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai were featured in what Wall Street Journal editors aptly described as a “depressing spectacle” during last week’s Senate Commerce Committee hearings
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Monday, 02 November 2020 11:03 AM
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