WASHINGTON—Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) want the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate how major tech companies curate content, and make public what the agency finds that’s in the public interest.
“Big Tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter exercise enormous influence on speech. The vast majority of Internet traffic flows through just a handful of these companies,” the senators said in a letter to all five FTC commissioners on July 15.
“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 non-transparent,” Cruz and Hawley wrote. “Never before in this country have so few people controlled so much speech.”
Cruz and Hawley said the FTC doesn’t require a law enforcement purpose to begin such an investigation because it already has the authority to review the Big Tech firms’ “conduct” and “practices.”
“The possibilities for abuse in this area are alarming and endless. Apart from more salient examples of censorship like account suspensions, nobody knows who or what these companies censor or amplify,” the senators told the FTC commissioners.
“Most content curation occurs in ways impossible for outsiders to detect. Some content is downgraded: The content appears in fewer recommendations, lower on search pages, and less often in news feeds. Other content is amplified through the same means,” the senators wrote.
Cruz and Hawley worry that such unaccountable power to shape what most Americans read and hear on the internet makes firms such as Google, Twitter, and Facebook “powerful enough to at the very least sway elections. And we’re told we have to be satisfied simply with trusting them not to abuse this immense power.”
In addition, the senators said that “companies that are this big and that have the potential to threaten democracy this much should not be allowed to curate content entirely without any transparency.
“These companies can greatly influence democratic outcomes, yet they have no accountability to voters. They are not even accountable to their own customers because nobody knows how these companies curate content.”
The senators’ letter comes at a time when public concern is growing about the censorship powers of Big Tech. Conservative commentator Deneen Borelli’s highly successful “Here’s The Deal” show on Facebook was canceled when its viewership suddenly and inexplicably plummeted.
“Because of Facebook’s anti-conservative bias, this will be my last episode for BlazeTV,” Borelli told viewers July 9.
Borelli’s final episode received more than 17,000 likes and comments from 4,800 individuals. She said the decline in audience began shortly after she spoke in February at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
“It’s obvious Facebook is a liberal platform and my first thought was that it was the company that was trying to silence my speech,” Borelli told the Daily Caller News Foundation on July 15.
“I am a prominent, female, black conservative. The left does not want my message to get out and resonate, especially with black voters who may be open-minded to hearing what I have to say, or women who may be open to what I have to say.” Borelli said.
President Donald Trump convened a “Social Media Summit” meeting at the White House on July 11, attended by dozens of conservative journalists, bloggers, and tech entrepreneurs who claim to have been victims of Big Tech censorship.
Trump told the summit attendees that he has directed all federal agencies to examine “all regulatory and legislative solutions to protect free speech.”
Hawley especially has made going after Big Tech censorship and other abuses a signature issue for his first term in the Senate. Prior to being elected to the Senate in 2018, Hawley was Missouri’s attorney general.
Since coming to Washington, Hawley has also introduced legislation to force Big Tech firms to make public how they monetize data about their users.
Another Hawley bill introduced earlier this year ends the digital giants’ immunity to publishing liability unless they submit proof their algorithms and content-removal policies are politically neutral.