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Senate to Look at Alleged Tech Speech Bias

Add the Republican leadership of the Senate Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee to those looking for some answers from the edge.

That is according to a hearing scheduled for Wednesday, April 10, entitled "Stifling Free Speech: Technological Censorship and the Public Discourse."

The chairman of the hearing is Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who has been vocal in his concerns that social media have been censoring conservative speakers.

Related: Sen. Cruz Says Big Tech Needs Reigning In

President Donald Trump has accused social media of 'dangerous collusion' to censor conservatives and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has sued Twitter for $250 million over alleged political bias.

At a Senate Consumer Protection Subcommittee hearing last fall, Cruz said there was virtually no transparency about what Twitter, or Google or Facebook, might be doing to censor conservative speech and suggested that was something the Federal Trade Commission should be looking into.

Simons signaled it was not clear to him that the FTC should be doing anything in the area of speech. He said what Cruz was talking about was similar to the FCC's "fairness Act"—he meant Fairness Doctrine, under which the FCC enforced balanced speech on the airwaves.

FTC chair Joseph Simons said "maybe there is an FCC angle there that is appropriate for either the Congress or the FCC to pursue." Cruz was unlikely to be in favor of that, since Republicans long railed against the doctrine as itself a way to repress conservative speech. Simons said that unless it related to a competition issue, or is unfair or deceptive, "then I don't think we have a roll."

Cruz also hammered Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about conservative bias in a high-profile hearing almost exactly a year ago.

The CEO acknowledged that Silicon Valley's liberal leanings were an understandable cause for questioning, but that his goal was a platform for all forms of expression, with the exception of hate speech, nudity, and whatever else made the community feel "unsafe," and has told Congress their is no systematic bias at Facebook.

The witness list has not been released, but The Hill is reporting that Facebook, Google and Twitter will all be represented, though it is not clear if that means the top execs. 

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.