Sen. Ted Cruz took Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to task Wednesday over what he called the social media platform’s anti-conservative bias, accusing him of acting like the Democratic Party’s censorship czar.
“Mr. Dorsey, who the hell elected you and put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report and what the American people are allowed to hear?” Mr. Cruz said at a virtual Senate committee hearing.
The Texas Republican flayed Mr. Dorsey over Twitter’s restrictions on the distribution of news stories involving Hunter Biden’s emails that reflect poorly on the presidential campaign of his father, Democrat Joseph R. Biden.
“And why do you persist in behaving as a Democratic super PAC, silencing views to the contrary of your political beliefs?” he asked.
“We’re not doing that,” Mr. Dorsey replied.
Mr. Cruz’s invective was part of a larger clash between Senate Republicans and Big Tech CEOs at the hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
The senators discussed revoking or altering Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects internet platforms such as Twitter and Facebook from legal liability for content posted by users.
Mr. Dorsey faced blistering accusations of bias and hypocrisy alongside Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
Senate Republicans were furious because Twitter prevented users this month from sharing New York Post articles about Hunter Biden’s shady business deals reportedly involving his father, Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden.
Senate Democrats said the hearing was an attempt to intimidate the companies to help Republicans win elections Tuesday.
Sen. Brian Schatz, Hawaii Democrat, said the hearing violated Senate rules against electioneering.
“There is a very good reason that we don’t haul people before us to yell at them for not doing our bidding during an election. It is a misuse of taxpayer dollars,” Mr. Schatz said at the hearing. “What’s happening here is a scar on this committee and the United States Senate. What we are seeing today is an attempt to bully the CEOs of private companies into carrying out a hit job on a presidential candidate by making sure that they push out foreign and domestic misinformation meant to influence the election.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat and former 2020 presidential contender, thanked the Big Tech executives for putting out “correct information” that contradicts President Trump and praised them for encouraging Americans to vote.
Media Research Center founder L. Brent Bozell III said it is no surprise that Democrats were thrilled with Big Tech’s policies for policing content.
“What inspired this committee hearing is the abuse of power by the top tech companies,” Mr. Bozell said. “The horrific censorship of the New York Post shows that [the] problem has only gotten far worse. Yet the leftists on the committee want even more restrictions on speech. They and their Big Tech allies want to turn the world into one massive safe space — safe for their ideas only.”
Regardless of the outcome of the elections, Congress is poised to rein in Big Tech’s ability to restrict speech online.
Commerce Committee Chairman Roger F. Wicker, Mississippi Republican, said the days were numbered for Section 230.
“The time has come for that free pass to end,” Mr. Wicker said. “After 24 years of Section 230 being the law of the land, much has changed. The internet is no longer an emerging technology. The companies before us today are no longer scrappy startups operating out of a garage or a dorm room. They are now among the world’s largest corporations, wielding immense power in our economy, culture and public discourse.”
Several Democrats agreed that new regulation or legislation is necessary.
“There is no doubt that there are some major issues with Google and Facebook and Twitter that Congress needs to address,” said Sen. Jon Tester, Montana Democrat. “Quite frankly, Big Tech is the unregulated Wild West that needs to be held accountable.”
Breaking with his competitors at Twitter and Google, Mr. Zuckerberg said he supported an “update” of Section 230 and called for a more active role for government regulators.
His remarks rankled some tech experts who favor a light-touch regulatory approach.
Jesse Blumenthal, director of technology and innovation at the libertarian-leaning Charles Koch Institute, said Mr. Zuckerberg should “hold the line” against pressure to endorse further limits to online speech.
The contours of any legislative proposal to overhaul Section 230 will be determined by outcomes of the elections Tuesday.
“I don’t believe my Republican colleagues have read the First Amendment, let alone Section 230,” Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, told reporters after the hearing. “Their obsessions with forcing private companies to print misinformation, lies and hate speech is unconstitutional and lays bare how little this is about Section 230 and how much it is a transparent attempt to work the refs a week before the election. I stand ready to take on Big Tech and ensure that users, free speech and innovation are always the guiding light of tech policy.”