Sens. Hawley, Cruz Seek FTC Investigation into Conservative 'Censorship'

A pair of powerful Republican senators have called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate "tech censorship practices."

Sen. Josh Hawley (Mo.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) sent a letter to all five commissioners (the majority are Republicans) to ask them to study how tech companies curate content "due to the enormous influence" they have over speech and what they called the "alarming and endless possibilities for abuse."

The letter comes just days after President Donald Trump held a White House event for conservative bloggers at which he said edge providers are censoring them and something must be done about it. Hawley was tapped by the President as a featured speaker at that event and praised for his efforts to crack down on the edge via various bills, several in concert with prominent Democrats.

Sens. Cruz and Hawley are not seeking an investigation of any alleged specific violation of the law, but instead a broad investigation of how content is treated, then for the FTC to make public whatever it finds out.

Under its Sec. 6B authority, which is what the senators are asking it to use, the FTC can "conduct wide-ranging studies that do not have a specific law enforcement purpose."

“Big tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter exercise enormous influence on speech," they said. "The vast majority of internet traffic flows through just a handful of these companies. They control the ads we see, the news we read, and the information we digest. And they actively censor some content and amplify other content based on algorithms and intentional decisions that are completely nontransparent."

Channeling Winston Churchill a bit, the pair advised: Never before in this country have so few people controlled so much speech." 

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.