The lawmakers didn’t indicate they were concerned about the legality of the purchase, but rather about Musk’s intention to loosen content moderation in light of the billionaire’s recent comments about the importance of free speech.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, said Democrats are “thinking about” the possibility of official hearings over Musk’s $44 billion deal to buy the social media giant.
Musk, who owns electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla Inc. and commercial space venture SpaceX, has said that Twitter has become “kind of the de facto town square,” a space where important conversations should be able to take place with as few constraints as reasonably possible.
Democrats on the commerce panel—which has in the past held hearings with social media giants such as Meta Platforms Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg and former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey—agreed that such hearings should be called.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) argued that Twitter is “central to democracy and our economy.”
“We have to understand the censorship or lack thereof, content moderation or not, that is going to be the policy for the new owner,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who has long spearheaded efforts to further regulate social media companies, agreed.
Blumenthal said that there was a “powerful imperative” to bring Musk in so that lawmakers could better understand his intentions with the platform.
After the Democratic lawmakers’ comments were made public, several conservative commentators derided the idea.
“Senate Democrats might call Elon Musk to testify to Congress over his Twitter plans,” Washington Times columnist Tim Young said in a Twitter post. “I don’t think they comprehend the level of intellectual beating they’re in for if they do that…”
Tom Fitton, president of the conservative-leaning organization Judicial Watch, also weighed in.
“Senate Dems target @ElonMusk because he isn’t interested in censoring their political opponents on @Twitter,” he said in a tweet.
The reaction to Musk’s buyout of the platform has raised eyebrows among some who suggest Democrats are retaliating against the Republican celebration of Musk’s Twitter takeover.
At a TED event in Vancouver, British Columbia, on April 14, Musk shared his thoughts about Twitter.
“It’s just really important that people have both the reality and the perception that they are able to speak freely within the bounds of the law,” he said.
“In my view, Twitter should match the laws of the country,” Musk said, acknowledging reasonable legal caps on free speech such as direct incitement to violence or the equivalent of yelling “fire” in a movie theater, for example.
“But going beyond that and having it be unclear who’s making what changes to where, having tweets mysteriously be promoted and demoted with no insight into what’s going on, having a black box algorithm promote some things and not other things, I think this can be quite dangerous,” he said.
Musk’s purchase of Twitter was praised by conservative commentators and Republicans in Congress, who see the move as a step toward more open discourse online. However, liberal commentators and Democratic lawmakers decried Musk’s purchase, suggesting that Musk’s more laissez-faire attitude toward free speech online would make Twitter more dangerous.
On April 28, the Federal Trade Commission opened a probe into whether Musk’s original 9 percent stake in Twitter complied with an antitrust reporting obligation.
This isn’t the first time Musk has found himself in hot water with federal regulators.
In a 2018 tweet, Musk suggested that he had the funding to take Tesla private, causing the value of the company’s stock to surge. The Securities and Exchange Commission opened an investigation into the tweets, and Musk was ultimately forced to pay $20 million in fines and have all his tweets that could affect Tesla’s stock value approved by the company.
Musk couldn’t be reached by The Epoch Times for comment.