Senate Democrats blasted Republican lawmakers’ grilling of the CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter on Wednesday as an attempt to intimidate the Big Tech titans into helping the GOP win next week’s election.
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing was intended to gather testimony from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. But Senate Democrats said that the hearing was actually conducted to help Republican lawmakers strong-arm the CEOs into making their social media companies work at Republicans’ behest.
Sen. Brian Schatz, Hawaii Democrat, said Wednesday that he thought the hearing violated the rules of the Senate to stay out of 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. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, said he thought Republicans were deliberately attempting to “intimidate” and “browbeat” the social media platforms for appropriately labeling disinformation online.
“We’re on the verge of a massive onslaught on the integrity of our elections,” Mr. Blumenthal said at the hearing. “President Trump has indicated that he will potentially interfere by posting disinformation on Election Day or the morning after.”
Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, pointedly questioned the CEOs of Facebook and Twitter about their decision to limit the distribution of news stories involving Hunter Biden’s emails that reflect poorly on the presidential campaign of his father, Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden.
The tech CEOs won praise for their content enforcement, however, from Democrats such as Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who thanked the Big Tech executives for putting out “correct information” that contradicts President Trump. Ms. Klobuchar also lauded the tech companies for encouraging Americans to vote.
The tech companies did not completely escape probing questions from Democrats though. After applauding the companies’ decisions to take action against Mr. Trump’s content, Ms. Klobuchar accused Facebook of spreading division online.
“The way I look at it, more divisiveness [means] more time on the platform. More time on the platform, the company makes more money,” Ms. Klobuchar said to Mr. Zuckerberg. “Does that bother you, what it’s done to our politics?”
“Senator, I respectfully disagree with that characterization of how the systems work,” Mr. Zuckerberg answered. “We design our systems to show people the content that’s going to be the most meaningful to them, which is not trying to be as divisive as possible. Most of the content on the systems is not political. It’s things like making sure that you can see when your cousin had her baby.”