Outside experts have found little evidence to support the allegation of widespread systematic political bias in Silicon Valley technology. But the conservative allegations are an explosive charge and a dramatic escalation ahead of Election Day. Not only do they reflect the stakes in the race, but the fact that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have become vital parts of American democracy, for better or for worse – and now a fair game for a party that has the habit to work the referee.
The trade committee isn’t the only one trying to get technical leaders into the hotseat. Last Thursday, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approve subpoenas for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, which would force them to testify about conservative censorship. No Democrats took part in the vote to force their testimony.
When Senator Ted Cruz called for the subpoena earlier this month, he blew tech platforms to “actively intervene in these elections as there is no precedent in our country’s history”.
“Twitter, Facebook and big tech billionaires cannot censor political speeches and actively meddle in the election,” said Cruz. “That’s exactly what they’re doing right now.”
Twitter declined to comment on this story. Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said the company has been criticized alike by Republicans “for being biased against Conservatives and Democrats for failing to take steps to restrict the exact same content. We have rules to protect the integrity of the.” Elections and freedom of expression we will continue to apply them impartially. ”
Google did not respond to a request for comment.
Constant complaints about bias
As with traditional media, conservatives have long complained about unfair treatment from social media platforms. But that criticism has accelerated this month with the upcoming elections.
The high demands for statements from executives are only one way the conservatives can increase the pressure on big tech.
The barrage of allegations has sparked a right-wing firestorm designed to force social media platforms to be more revealing of conservative content – in case they refuse to use the platforms at a time when millions depend on their services In order to obtain accurate information, largely delegitimize voting and the pandemic.
Political communications experts say what Cruz, Hawley, and other Republicans are doing right now fits a long-standing pattern.
“We could have called this like a 2000 CW show,” said Dave Karpf, a political scientist at George Washington University. “You can predict every stroke that will happen.”
It’s a complicated relationship
And the platforms themselves went out of their way to help conservatives.
McGregor said it would make no sense to label companies’ choices about content moderation as part of their publicly stated policies as “contributions in kind” if companies had provided direct support for campaigns in the past.
“Nobody said it was an illegal in-kind contribution in 2016 when people actually worked side by side in the Trump campaign offices,” said McGregor. To say that companies’ content choices violate campaign funding laws “is a pretty wild and baseless claim,” she added.
But fast-forward four years and allegations from the tech industry’s liberal agenda dominate the Republican topics of conversation.
“If there’s any interference with the election, it’s from Twitter and Facebook trying to get a certain narrative out,” White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told Fox News last Monday.
“Isn’t this behavior evidence of market power?” he said at a hearing in September. “Why would a company want to treat its customers this way if it wasn’t confident that its customers had no alternative?”
The real problems of big tech in Washington
However, these issues are radically different from what the top Republicans have identified as their main complaint with tech companies, said Senator Brian Schatz, who also sits on the trade committee.
“I want to separate the good faith reviews of Section 230 and the antitrust-related issues that are legitimate,” said Schatz. “That’s not what it is [upcoming] Listening is about that, and that’s exactly what this effort two weeks before the election is not. The point here is just to force these CEOs into submission. ”
Regardless of how hard tech platforms try to win Conservative approval, it is becoming increasingly clear that nothing will stop the attacks because of alleged political bias, Karpf said. That’s because it’s precisely about instilling suspicion in the medium.
“There is no way to get Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz not to complain about it because it makes strategic sense to complain about it,” said Karpf.
A worrying side effect of the conservative attacks is the politicization of social media technology itself, McGregor said, which is problematic when so many Americans are now using social media to get their messages.
“We can’t agree on information,” said McGregor. “But to say that there is a great conspiracy by the old media and technology platforms to silence Republicans is a step beyond that and de-legitimize these mechanisms that we need to get information about people.”
Several experts said the GOP’s efforts to discredit social media companies are similar to politicizing executive agencies, speaking out from federal inspectors-general, and violating long-standing political norms regarding appointments and approvals of judicial officers.
“If you undermine those institutions that can review your power, power is unlimited,” added McGregor. “Then this is not a democracy.”