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March 26, 2021

House Committee Blasts Big Tech … Again

Silicon Valley has become a common target for both Democrats and Republicans, but for polar opposite reasons.

Big Tech has increasingly become an easy and favorite target of both sides of the political aisle. This reality was on display again Thursday during the latest congressional hearing involving the CEOs of Facebook, Google, and Twitter. As Representative Angie Craig (D-MN) put it, “This panel has done something truly rare in Washington these days — it’s united Democrats and Republicans.” She then added, “Your industry cannot be trusted to regulate itself.”

The trouble is that this seeming unity between Democrats and Republicans against Big Tech is for polar opposite reasons. To put it succinctly, the Republicans’ objections to Big Tech center on its increasing censorship of Americans’ free speech, specifically the speech rights of conservatives, whereas the Democrats’ primary objection is that Big Tech has not been doing enough censorship of conservative speech.

Expressing the Democrats’ primary issue, Congressman Mike Doyle (D-PA) blasted the CEOs for overseeing “havens of hate, harassment, and division,” before warning, “We will legislate to stop this.” Representative G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) asserted that social media sites are “being used to undermine social justice.” He also contended that Congress should “compel you, perhaps with penalties, to make meaningful changes” to force more racial diversity among Silicon Valley employees.

Again, Republican concerns focused on censorship. Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA) took Jack Dorsey to task over Twitter’s blatantly political decision last October to block the New York Post’s story exposing Hunter Biden via the discovery of his laptop. Dorsey dismissed it as a “total mistake” that “we corrected … within 24 hours.” (Fact-check: False information.) When Scalise pressed Dorsey on whether Twitter’s “censoring department” was held accountable for the mistake, Dorsey wryly deflected, “Well, we don’t have a censoring department.”

Scalise then warned, “Just recognize if you become viewed and continue to become viewed as an anti-conservatively biased platform, there will be other people that step up to compete and ultimately take millions of people from Twitter.” The trouble is Scalise’s complaint was too narrow and his warning lacked teeth. For example, just look at how Big Tech worked in concert to eliminate the threat of Parler just as a massive number of conservatives were jumping on board the free speech-promoting platform.

The reality is that Big Tech’s suppression is much broader and insidious than the mere deplatforming of some notable figures like Donald Trump. Big Tech’s suppression of speech might better be described as redlining the First Amendment.

Using devious and underhanded tactics such as shadow banning and dubious “fact-checking” agents clearly beholden to leftist political biases, Big Tech effectively exerts massive and increasing control over what content users are allowed to see and what content/opinions users are allowed to post. By erroneously declaring certain conservative opinions and views as “hate speech” or “missing context,” Big Tech justifies its speech controls.

And this is where the Washington game is being played. Both sides are calling for greater regulation of Big Tech, and this regulations gambit is playing right into the hands of Democrats. By calling for Big Tech to better regulate speech, Democrats are effectively calling for all speech to be regulated according to their own values and views, not according to concerns over protecting American citizens’ First Amendment rights. As the Wall Street Journal editorial board cogently observes, “The gatekeepers of online expression increasingly resemble government regulators, navigating threats and exhortations from politicians.”

Republicans want regulations preventing Big Tech from engaging in censorship, while Democrats want Big Tech to do their bidding by regulating the information and ideas that Americans are allowed to see and express on social media platforms.

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