- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The titans of Big Tech are heading to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to fend off lawmakers’ attempts to break up their companies.

While lawmakers grill the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google’s parent company Alphabet about antitrust issues, they also are expected to ask the executives about censorship, voter suppression and their role in the 2020 elections.

The House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee began investigating the tech giants last summer, and the hearing finally puts the spotlight on Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai.

“Given the central role these corporations play in the lives of the American people, it is critical that their CEOs are forthcoming,” said Democratic Reps. Jerrold Nadler of New York and David Cicilline of Rhode Island, chairmen of the committee and subcommittee, respectively. “Their testimony is essential for us to complete this investigation.”

Some technology watchdogs are worried lawmakers may get distracted by non-antitrust issues, especially amid the backdrop of the November elections.

Mike Davis, founder of the conservative Internet Accountability Project, said the companies have become “clear monopolists” and the committee should focus on how their consolidation of power has harmed small businesses and censored political speech.

“The key is for House Judiciary Republicans not to get duped or used by Big Tech by conflating law enforcement with regulation,” Mr. Davis said. “Conservatives don’t believe in immigration amnesty and we shouldn’t believe in antitrust amnesty.”

Other conservatives want the lawmakers to use their limited opportunities to grill the CEOs on content moderation policies. Media Research Center founder L. Brent Bozell III organized a Free Speech Alliance of more than 35 conservative activists to “dare” Google’s CEO to swear under oath at the hearing that he does not censor conservatives.

“We believe Google is lying yet again,” reads the alliance’s letter to Mr. Pichai. “It’s the same old game. Censor conservatives, wait for someone else to call you out on it, then blame the algorithms or another technical problem for the censorship. Somehow you never manage to discover your own glitch. It’s always your victims who do. Your approach to this scandal is one of an utter lack of transparency and has become second nature to you and your organization. It’s not merely shameful, it’s a clear and present danger to our civil society. You need to answer for this.”

Liberal activists, however, say social media enabled President Trump’s rise and think social media companies such as Facebook have not cracked down hard enough on conservative voices. When Mr. Zuckerberg testified before the House Financial Services Committee last year regarding a cryptocurrency project Facebook is pursuing called Libra, Democrats instead quizzed him on his relationships with conservative media personalities.

With fewer than 100 days until the elections, liberal activists want to see Mr. Zuckerberg and the other CEOs explain how they are fighting voter suppression or stomping out misinformation on their sites.

Sarah Miller, executive director of the liberal American Economic Liberties Project, wants Democratic lawmakers to focus instead on the threat she thinks is posed by the technology leaders.

“Policymakers and enforcers have allowed these Big Tech barons to bully workers, consumers and businesses for far too long,” Ms. Miller said in a statement. “The outcome of the subcommittee’s investigation into their monopoly power is central not only to whether markets will become more fair, but whether Congress will reassert its power over a handful of men whose corporations threaten our democracy itself.”

With the Trump administration weighing how and whether to regulate the companies and a potential Democratic administration favoring a more aggressive regulatory regime, the CEOs’ testimony may determine the contours of internet regulation in the coming years.

The committee’s Democratic leaders rebuffed Republican requests to put the CEOs before the full Judiciary Committee, giving more lawmakers a crack at them.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the committee, also requested that the hearing include Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. But Mr. Dorsey was not called to come to the Capitol, and Twitter has declined to comment on Mr. Jordan’s request.

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