Republican Senators spoke out against Twitter’s labeling of President Trump’s comments while refraining from fact checking his political opponents’ comments.
Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) suggested that Twitter and other big tech companies lose the immunity afforded to them by the federal government if they are choosing to go from a “forum” to a publisher status.
“Yesterday, for the first time ever, Twitter branded the President’s tweets with a ‘fact check’ designed to encourage readers to believe that the President’s political speech was inaccurate,” said Hawley.
“Twitter’s decision to editorialize regarding the content of political speech raises questions about why Twitter should continue receiving special status and special immunity from publisher liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act,” added Hawley.
“The law still protects social media companies like @Twitter because they are considered forums not publishers,” Rubio said. “But if they have now decided to exercise an editorial role like a publisher then they should no longer be shielded from liability & treated as publishers under the law,” he added.
“This special immunity from suits and from liability that’s worth billions of dollars to them every year, why are they getting subsidized by federal taxpayers to censor conservatives to censor people critical of China, they need to explain we need some answers,” Hawley said on Fox News.
Hawley sent a letter to Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey in which he questioned why the fact checking appears to be one-sided and politically motivated.
The Missouri Senator raised the question as to why inaccurate information by Joe Biden and the Chinese Communist Party is not labeled with a fact check label.
“Meanwhile, where has Twitter been in response to the outright lies and propaganda by the Chinese Communist Party and its so-called ‘wolf warriors,’ busy blaming American soldiers for the start of COVID-19 on social media? Will Twitter also ‘fact check’ these outrageous statements?” said Hawley.
“Unfortunately, your company is not alone in censoring content to please the Chinese Communist Party,” said Hawley.
The Issue of big tech companies censoring conservative speech is not a new one and has been addressed at a series of Senate briefing with big tech executives in 2019. In a Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing with Twitter Public Policy Director, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) made it clear he was not going to allow social media bias and censorship.
“If we have tech companies using the powers of monopoly to censor political speech, I think that raises real antitrust issues,” Cruz said at a U.S. Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing in April 2019.
Cruz said about 70 percent of the public gets their news from social media sources so the power the companies possess is tremendous.
“The ability for a handful of giant tech companies to decide if a particular speaker is disfavored that he or she may speak, and their words simply fade into the ether,” continued Cruz.
Twitter, Google, and Facebook, have denied their platforms are politically biased, and Democratic senators disagree with Republican claims, saying there is no evidence of conservatives being singled out.
Since the pandemic, social media platforms have been limiting the reach of posts that contain words or references to the virus unless they’re from trusted sources, experts say. But it’s the platforms that are deciding who these trusted sources are, said Andrew Selepak, social media professor at the University of Florida.
“In essence, the platforms are acting as gatekeepers to information, which is the exact opposite of the purpose behind social media, in that it should not limit the voice of users,” he told The Epoch Times.
If the online public square is only limited to voices vetted as acceptable by social media companies, “we may never know whose voices are being limited or silenced and they may never be able to tell us,” Selepak said.
There are solid arguments to limit some speech in cases of inciting violence, such as ISIS using platforms to spread its violent ideology, and recruit members. If the only option for people is to not use the platform, and there are no other alternatives, “then free speech is truly silenced,” Selepak said.
According to Andrew Contiguglia, president of the not-for-profit First Amendment Lawyers Association, there’s not much people can do about companies moderating or censoring posts on their platforms.
“We have this First Amendment right to free speech, but the social media sites have control over the message we are trying to convey,” Contiguglia told The Epoch Times.
Some people have expressed concern that social media sites aren’t doing enough to counter violent or false speech, he said. At the same time, others argue platforms are unfairly banning and restricting access to potentially valuable speech.
Bowen Xiao contributed to this report.