Reps. Square Off Over Online Censorship

Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and James Hines (D-Conn.) found themselves on the other side of the hearing room Thursday (April 26), testifying in the House Judiciary Committee about alleged online censorship of conservative speech.

The hearing was on "Filtering Practices of Social Media Platforms" and stemmed in part from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's testimony before Congress last week. The first two panelists were members of Congress, and as such only presented statements and were not questioned afterward.

Blackburn, who chairs the House Communications Subcommittee, told her fellow legislators that a campaign launch video last October--she is running for a Senate seat--was removed from Twitter's ad platform "due to my pro-life message."

She said it had been restored, but that has not stopped other conservative speech from being muzzled on social media platforms.

Related: House Judiciary to Hold Online Censorship Hearing

"There are growing concerns about how and why Big Tech companies are making decisions to ban, deprioritize, or otherwise filter completely legal speech online," she said. "When Mark Zuckerberg testified earlier this month, every time someone asked about censoring conservatives, he said that Facebook takes down bad content like terrorism. When he gave me that answer, I responded that Diamond and Silk [social media personalities and Trump supporters] are not terrorism. But this problem is more far-reaching than Diamond and Silk."

On the other side, Rep. James Hines (D-Conn.) strongly defended social media platforms against what he said was an attempt to "amplify the financially lucrative and politically convenient hoax" that social media were deliberately censoring conservative speech.

He said the hearing was the result of a "carefully manufactured fear of the American right that everyone is out to get them."

"Never mind that the right controls the White House, both houses of Congress, a growing chunk of the Supreme Court and governorships all over America," Hines said. "Never mind Sinclair. Never mind the global Murdoch news empire. You are under siege. If there is no siege, there is no fear, and there is no anger. Eventually, everyone will come to know that the charge that Facebook and other social media companies filter out conservative commentary is untrue."

None of the social media platforms invited to the hearing, and their absence did not please committee chair Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).

Goodlatte said the committee would get the answers it sought from Google, Facebook and Twitter about their filtering practices by "whatever means necessary." (Zuckerberg already spent some 10 hours this month testifying before both the House and Senate on many issues, including alleged censorship.)

Goodlatte called out each of the social media sites and outlined allegations of bias against them before moving to a panel of association.

"Their refusal to appear only creates more questions and more concerns," he said, adding that the committee was resolved to have its questions answered directly by the companies.

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.