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Big Tech Before the Senate

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R Tenn-BigTech
By: Fred Lucas – – 

Facebook and Twitter executives testified Wednesday on Capitol Hill about their alleged political bias in the wake of numerous anecdotal instances of censorship reported by users of the social media sites.

Carlos Monje Jr., director of public policy for Twitter Inc., and Neil Potts, public policy director for Facebook, appeared before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution.

The topic of the hearing was censorship of conservative views by big tech firms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google.

Also speaking were the director of the new pro-life movie “Unplanned,” college professors, and the father of a child murdered during the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012.

Here are six highlights from the hearing.

1. Denying Liberal Bias

Monje stressed that Twitter “does not use political viewpoints, perspectives, or party affiliation” in making decisions about content or rankings.

Similarly, Potts said Facebook strives for diversity of opinion.

“I would like to state unequivocally that Facebook does not favor one political viewpoint over another, nor does Facebook suppress conservative speech,” Potts told the Senate panel.

“Our Community Standards have been carefully designed to ensure that content is reviewed in a neutral way, focused on what is necessary to keep our users safe.”

2. Blackburn Gets an Apology

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., confronted Monje, who apologized for pulling her pro-life ad during the 2018 campaign because Twitter deemed it “inflammatory.”

Seeking a yes or no answer, Blackburn asked both social media executives  whether their platforms should “promote spirited debate on all sides of the political spectrum.”

Both answered yes.

Blackburn then asked: “Should Facebook allow ads urging that we save sea turtles or baby seals?”

“I believe that would be fine,” Potts answered.

Blackburn turned to Monje: “Should Twitter allow ads that denounce Planned Parenthood for selling baby body parts?”

Monje: “Every ad is judged within context. We made a mistake on your ad, and I apologize.”

Monje also apologized to Blackburn during his opening remarks before the committee.

However, the executives from both California-based social media giants denied any political bias on the part of their teams or in their electronic algorithms used to filter content.

3. Bias on Abortion

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, committee chairman, pointed to a Susan B. Anthony List ad that Twitter had banned. It included a quote criticizing abortion from Mother Teresa.

Alison HCentofante
Wow. @sencruz shows a blocked @SBAList tweet that highlights a Mother Teresa quote: “Abortion is pro-foundly anti-woman.”
Cruz: “Is this hate speech?”
Twitter and Facebook representatives at a loss for words.

Chuck Konzelman, the writer and director of “Unplanned,” which opened two weeks ago, told the Senate panel about obstacles in marketing the movie on Google and Twitter

“We were convinced of the advisability of advertising with Google,” Konzelman said. “But we were blocked from doing so. Google cited a policy regarding abortion-related ads. Just one problem: We weren’t doing abortion-related ads. We were marketing a movie.”

“Twitter apparently deleted the vast majority of those listed as ‘followers’ for our account,” Konzelman said, “reducing the number from something on the order of 200,000 to less than 200. A thousand-to-one reduction in our listed followers.”

But Konzelman credited Facebook.

“Interestingly, on the one social media platform from today’s first panel where we didn’t have significant problems—on Facebook—our exposure exploded,” he said. “And I believe the film’s Facebook site had something on the order of about 12 million trailer views by the time of our theatrical debut, and nearly 18 million to date.”

Monje, the Twitter executive, said the problems with the “Unplanned” account occurred because of a glitch in the automated system.

“We reinstated the @UnplannedMovie account as soon as it was brought to our attention that the new account was not intended for similar violative activity,” Monje said.

“If [Twitter] users searched for and followed the account during this time, it appeared as if the account was unfollowed,” he said. “Individuals who followed the account during that time period were automatically restored as a follower to that account once it stabilized. Ultimately, the hashtag #unplannedmovie became a trending topic on Twitter.”

4. Google Bias

The committee disinvited Google executive Max Pappas, a former Senate aide to Cruz, because he was not at the equivalent level of the Facebook and Twitter executives.

The entire Judiciary Committee reportedly plans to conduct a separate hearing on Google, where Pappas is acting director of political and stakeholder outreach.

Blackburn noted that earlier this month, Google “shut down its AI External Ethics Board because, heaven forbid, a woman serving on the committee was the president of a respected conservative think tank.”

“For these employees in Silicon Valley, conservative credentials are absolutely a scarlet letter,” Blackburn added.

Blackburn was referring to Heritage Foundation President Kay Coles James, a member of Google’s new advisory board on artificial intelligence until company employees organized a petition against her.

Google responded by disbanding the board. James wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post about the matter in which she recalled the discrimination she experienced as a young black girl in Virginia.


5. Solutions to Big Tech Bias


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Source: 6 Big Topics From Senate Hearing on Censorship by Big Tech

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