Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) sharply criticized Twitter and the social media company’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, over the recent censorship of a New York Post article damaging to the Biden campaign during a hearing on Wednesday.
“Mr. Dorsey, does Twitter have the ability to influence elections?” asked Cruz in his first question.
Dorsey replied with a simple “no.”
Pressed further by Cruz, Dorsey claimed that Twitter did not have influence over elections because the platform is “one part of a spectrum of communication channels that people have.”
Two weeks ago, Twitter blocked users from sharing a link to a Post article alleging that files damaging to the Biden campaign were found on a laptop that had been brought into a computer repair shop.
The files included a 2015 email from an executive at a Ukrainian energy firm thanking Hunter Biden for introducing him to his father, then Vice President Joe Biden.
Asked by Cruz why Twitter censored the outlet and its article, Dorsey said the censorship was because of a 2018 policy that prohibited “hacked materials” from being shared on the platform.
“Because [the New York Post] showed the direct materials, screenshots of the direct materials, and it was unclear how those were obtained, it fell under this policy,” said Dorsey.
Dorsey said that blocking the URL was a mistake on the part of Twitter and that they quickly updated their policy.
Shortly after the social media giant came under fire for the censorship, a senior official in the company said that they would “no longer remove hacked content unless it is directly shared by hackers or those acting in concert with them.”
However, Dorsey told Cruz that Twitter is still prohibiting the Post from using their account unless they delete the first tweet “which fell under [Twitter’s] original enforcement actions.”
Cruz also contrasted the article in question with an article from the New York Times that released information purportedly based on President Trump’s tax returns.
“Federal statute makes it a crime, a federal felony, to distribute someone’s tax returns against their knowledge. So that material was based on something that was distributed in violation of federal law, and yet Twitter gleefully allowed people to circulate that, but when the article was critical of Joe Biden, Twitter engaged in rampant censorship and silencing,” said Cruz.
Dorsey maintained that since the Times reported “about” the material and did not “distribute” it within its article, it did not violate Twitter’s policy.
“So Twitter takes the view that you can censor the New York Post, you can censor Politico, presumably you can censor the New York Times, or any other media outlet,” said Cruz.
“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, and why do you persist in behaving as a Democratic super PAC silencing views to the contrary of your political beliefs?”
“Well we’re not doing that,” replied Dorsey. “We realize we need to earn trust more. We realize that more accountability is needed, to show our intentions, and to show the outcomes.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai were also at the hearing for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, both of whom Cruz said he spoke with on Tuesday.
Although Cruz directed his questioning at Twitter, he said he had “concerns about the behavior” of both Facebook and Google.
He noted that Facebook is “at least trying to make some efforts in the direction of defending free speech,” but expressed more pessimism toward Google, saying that the web search giant “has more power than any company on the face of the planet.”
Cruz has been sharply critical of Section 230, which became federal law under the Communication Decency Act of 1996.
The statute provides that, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of [. . .] any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.”
Section 230 shields online platforms from liability for censoring user content, especially of an obscene nature, such as profanity or pornography.
Some politicians such as Cruz have expressed concerns that big tech companies like Twitter are hiding behind the law as a way to justify the censorship of political speech that they disagree with, especially as social media platforms engage in more “fact checking.”
Cruz has called for the repeal of Section 230 in the past and has opposed inclusion of similar language in recent international trade agreements.
In related big tech news, the state of Texas recently joined an antitrust lawsuit with the Department of Justice and 10 other states against Google.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.