Dems Push Twitter for Civil Rights Audit

They used a lot more than 280 characters, but Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, and fellow Democrat Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois, Monday pressed Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to firm up his commitment to conduct a civil rights audit of his social media platform.

Their goal is for Twitter to follow a kind of web Hippocratic oath: "First, do no harm to our country, our democracy, or the public."

That commitment came in testimony before the Committee Sept. 5.

Related: Twitter's Dorsey to Hill: We Don't Base Decisions on Political Ideology

At the hearing, which Pallone signaled he viewed the grilling as a Republican stunt to drum up campaign contributions by riding on the coattails of President Donald Trump's attacks on Twitter and other social media sites as censors of conservative speech. But he also conceded Twitter had a darker side, including being used for bullying and to spread disinformation. He quoted Dorsey as saying that truth will ultimately come out, but Pallone said he is not convinced. 

In the letter to Dorsey, Pallone and Rush said the civil rights audit was needed because of the use of Twitter to sew that division. "'[S]ome Twitter users, including foreign agents, continue to misuse the platform to promote racially divisive content and misinformation," they told him, adding: "[Widespread abuse, harassment, harmful misinformation and manipulation continue on Twitter."

They said an audit would be a positive step forward, pointing out that Facebook and others have agreed to similar review. 

They also put in a plug for greater transparency around Twitter's rules and policies, then "swift and fair" enforcement.

Both, they said would go a long way to Twitter regaining the trust of the public in its service, another way of saying Twitter currently does not have that trust.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.