Republicans are getting into the tech-bashing game, but it’s not about privacy, fake news, election meddling around the globe, or enabling genocide. Nope, Republican lawmakers believe Big Tech — specifically Facebook, Google, and Twitter — are silencing voices of the Right.
The Republican-led House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the subject Thursday, and while tech execs declined to attend, pro-Trump commentators Diamond and Silk stoked long-held suspicions among conservative lawmakers.
"Facebook along with other social media sites have taken aggressive actions to silence conservative voices like ourselves,” Lynnette Hardaway (aka Diamond), told the committee. “It's not fair for Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg to dictate to people and tell them what they can and cannot see in their news feed.”
Diamond and Silk emerged as social media stars during the 2016 election as unapologetic and funny pro-Trump voices. Facebook and the duo have been arguing over the past several months about a decline in engagement on their page which boasts 1.5 million “Likes.” That disagreement went viral in early April when Facebook sent Diamond and Silk a message that they were “unsafe for the community,” a message that Facebook says was sent in error.
But conservative media and Diamond and Silk used the incident and exaggerated its impact to further push the narrative that Big Tech was biased against conservatives including President Donald Trump.
“Social media companies have repeatedly censored, removed, or shadow-banned conservative journalists, news organization and media outlets that do not adhere to their political views”
It’s a narrative that Republican members of Congress embraced on Thursday.
“Social media companies have repeatedly censored, removed, or shadow-banned conservative journalists, news organization and media outlets that do not adhere to their political views,” claimed Republican Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas who attacked the tech giants for rejecting the committee’s invitations to testify. “It makes you wonder what they are afraid of.”
Facebook, Twitter, and Google all declined to comment or did not respond today when VICE News asked why they did not attend the hearing. They also did not comment on the accusations of political bias on their platforms.
Facebook overhauled their newsfeed algorithm in recent months which has resulted in declining engagement for news and political pages across the political spectrum. But Republicans criticized the company for not being transparent in how that algorithm operates.
“Facebook recently tweaked its algorithm to prioritize content that is ‘trustworthy, informative, and local,’” Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee said in prepared testimony before the committee. “No one knows exactly what that means.” Blackburn was a witness since Twitter had pulled an ad for her Senate campaign last year because of its attacks on Planned Parenthood for selling “baby body parts,” a move Twitter reversed after a public outcry.
“House Republicans have no time for substantive oversight of the Trump administration ... but they have made time for Diamond and Silk”
The hearing is just the latest instance of a dramatic shift in how lawmakers on both sides of the aisle treat these fast-growing internet companies. For the last decade, Facebook, Google, and others have enjoyed a relatively little scrutiny from Democrats and Republicans. Republicans boasted of their entrepreneurship and disruption of industries that were regulated and unionized while Democrats liked associating themselves with the shiny new objects that they believed made them look hip and innovative.
That era of good feeling is over.
And Thursday’s hearing was just the latest example. Mark Zuckerberg had to testify for the first time ever earlier this month in response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Google is spending more money than any company in America on lobbyists and Facebook is not far behind. President Donald Trump is regularly attacking Amazon on Twitter. And calls to regulate the companies are jumping from the think tank world to congressional offices.
Still, Democrats did not join their Republican colleagues in accusing the companies of a liberal bias and attacked Republicans for pushing a false narrative of persecution rather than addressing other issues dealing with tech companies.
Cover image: Supporters Diamond and Silk speaks during Donald J. Trump campaign event at the BB&T Center on August 10, 2016 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo by Johnny Louis/WireImage)
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