- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Twitter told senators Wednesday that it doesn’t hold a bias against conservatives, saying the social media giant studied tweets by all Democrats and Republicans in Congress this year and found they drew similar rates of viewership.

Democrats did tweet more, but once Twitter adjusted for those kinds of factors, the company said “there is no statistically significant difference between the number of times a Tweet by a Democrat is viewed versus a Tweet by a Republican.”

Carlos Monje Jr., Twitter’s director of public policy, made that claim in a hearing before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, even as he apologized to Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, after his company pulled a pro-life ad she tried to run in her 2017 campaign touting her role in stopping “the sale of baby body parts” by Planned Parenthood.

“The notion that we would silence any political perspective is antithetical to our commitment to free expression,” Mr. Monje said.

Facebook likewise said it holds no explicit bias and is working to control implicit biases that may result from a company based in the left-wing bastion of Silicon Valley.

“We do not suppress conservative speech,” said Neil Potts, Facebook’s public policy director.

The assurances weren’t reassuring to Senate Republicans, who called the hearing to demand more evidence and transparency.

Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican and chairman of the Constitution subcommittee, said it is tough to square those claims with the overwhelming number of stories of conservatives having their activities hidden or censored — and a striking lack of similar reports on the left.

“These anecdotes all seem to be consistently on one side of the spectrum,” he said.

Neither Mr. Potts nor Mr. Monje was able to give Mr. Cruz the data he wanted to settle the issue, though Mr. Monje said some Democratic members of Congress and governors have had their accounts sanctioned because they broke terms of use or a new “impersonation” policy.

He refused to reveal who he was talking about because that would violate those Democrats’ privacy.

“If you are not engaged in censorship, releasing the data … would go a long way in either clearing it up or in demonstrating there’s a persistent pattern of bias,” Mr. Cruz said.

Both companies acknowledged tough cases and mistakes. Twitter carries 500 million tweets a day, meaning an error rate of one in a million amounts to 500 botches per day.

Mr. Monje said that while Twitter doesn’t intend to stifle the exchange of ideas, it does want to strip out hateful or hurtful expressions because that is the only way to protect free speech.

“If people don’t feel safe to speak, they very often won’t,” he said.

Google was invited to appear, but Mr. Cruz said the company didn’t offer a sufficiently high-ranking representative. He said Google will face its own hearing later.

Also testifying Wednesday was the man behind the new film “Unplanned,” which tells the true story of a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who, after watching an ultrasound of a real-time abortion, quit and became a pro-life advocate.

Screenwriter Chuck Konzelman said Google Ads blocked all of the movie’s prerelease banner ads and claimed it didn’t take abortion-related materials. Mr. Konzelman wondered whether the same prohibition will apply to two pro-choice films he said are in development.

Mr. Konzelman said Twitter suspended the film’s marketing account early one morning last month. The account was restored, but Mr. Konzelman said he never received a sufficient explanation. Then Twitter users began to be dropped as followers, he said.

Facebook did not give him any problems, he said, and he credited the platform with massive exposure, including 12 million views of the movie’s trailer.

Democrats doubted reports of bias but had their own gripes with the companies, saying they didn’t act fast enough to pull down hateful or offensive content.

Their argument was boosted by Robbie Parker, father of Emilie Parker, one of the 20 children slain in a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut just before Christmas in 2012.

He said hoaxers and conspiracy theorists took to the internet to accuse him of lying about the attack, claiming his daughter was either alive or never existed in the first place, and he was part of an Obama administration conspiracy to fake the tragedy.

“We reached out to places like YouTube and Facebook pleading for help and asking that this content be removed from their sites. We either received programmed responses or cold silence,” he said.

The social media companies say they have improved their policies and their screening and are now removing the content when they can.

They said much of the decision-making depends on context. A Bible quote posted in one setting may be fine but would be removable if used as an attack, one of the companies testified.

Facebook said it takes accusations of bias seriously and has asked a leading liberal activist and a former Republican senator to review its operations.

Under questioning from Mr. Cruz, both platforms denied “shadow banning,” or reducing a user’s visibility so the posts and comments aren’t seen.

Mr. Cruz suggested Congress could regulate the industry, including pursuing antitrust remedies or canceling “Big Tech” companies’ special protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.”

He said the technology companies are benefiting from an implicit deal with Congress in which they act as neutral platforms for their users’ content and enjoy legal immunity from claims over the content they host.

“If Big Tech wants to be partisan political speakers, it has that right. But it has no entitlement to special immunity under Section 230,” he said.

Michael Beckerman, president of the Internet Association, said it would be misguided to target an industry that does strive to be an open forum.

“Conservatives’ prolific and effective use of online platforms to reach Americans is evidence that the digital playing field is level,” he said in a statement. “The internet represents a bright spot in America’s economy, supporting 3 million jobs, 6 percent of our economy, and adding to a $172 billion digital trade surplus last year alone.”

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