Sen. Roger Wicker Calls for Big Tech 'Censorship' Hearing

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) participates in a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security hearing to examine COVID-19 fraud and price gouging, in the Russell Senate Office Building on February 01, 2022 in Washington, DC. The subcommittee held the hearing to discuss fraud and price gauging related to the Covid-19 pandemic and how consumer groups and the Federal Trade Commission can combat it.
(Image credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Following Elon Musk's internal Twitter file dump, which Republicans see as a smoking gun and Democrats as a bit of a dud, Republican Sen. Roger Wicker (Miss.), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, is calling its chair to hold a hearing on the state of free speech on social media, and do it before the current Congress closes its doors.

In a letter to Committee Chairman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) a copy of which was supplied by Wicker's office, the senator said the Twitter documents suggest the company has been coordinating with the Biden Administration to censor posts.

The Administration has been reaching out to social media on what it sees as insufficient monitoring of speech on their platforms encouraging hate and violence, as well as disinformation, the definition of which -- including particularly in this case as it relates to the infamous Hunter Biden laptop story -- is at the crux of the divide between Republicans and Democrats, both of which have bones to pick with Big Tech.

Also: Wicker Says Commerce Will Review Section 230

"Two years ago, the chief executive officers of Google, Facebook, and Twitter testified before the Senate Commerce Committee (the Committee) and promised to implement changes that would build trust and increase transparency in their content moderation practices.  Instead, the leaders of these tech giants have only increased enforcement actions against prominent political voices online while continuing to elude accountability," Wicker wrote Cantwell.

Republicans say going after disinformation online is just a cover for censoring conservative speakers by liberal Silicon Valley.

Wicker said it had been two years since the full committee held a hearing on "how to preserve the internet as a forum for open discourse," and that it was past time to follow up. "Some of our colleagues and I have long suspected that Twitter and Facebook acted arbitrarily to censor a New York Post story critical of Hunter Biden that may have affected the outcome of the 2020 election," he said, adding that intervening info supports that conclusion and not the social media company's justification that they were trying to prevent Russian misinformation.

"After the release of the 'Twitter Files,' we now know Twitter was removing content at the request of the Biden campaign," Wicker claimed.

He pointed out that legislation he has backed that would limit the social media giant's ability to remove content (by revising the Section 230 immunity social media sites have from civil liability for third-party content) and create non-discrimination rules and greater transparency around content moderation hasn't gotten anywhere due to "stiff resistance" from the committee. ■

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.