Democrats and Big Tech’s Desire to Silence Dissent Is A Dangerous Totalitarian Instinct
by Ted Cruz on November 18, 2020 at 9:08 AM
As member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I yesterday questioned Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at a full committee hearing examining Big Tech’s abuses of power, specifically suppressing free speech, silencing the free press, and undermining the integrity of our elections. Watch my full line of questioning here. Excerpts below.
ON DEMOCRATS’ ENCOURAGEMENT OF BIG TECH CENSORSHIP
It’s dismaying listening to the question[s] from our Democratic colleagues because consistently the message from Senate Democrats is for Facebook, Twitter, and Google to censor more. To abuse their power more. To silence voices that Senate Democrats disagree with more. […] That’s a totalitarian instinct that I think is very dangerous.
ON BIG TECH’S ABUSE OF SECTION 230
Facebook, Twitter, and Google have massive power. They have a monopoly on public discourse in the online arena. […] At the same time that Big Tech exercises massive power it also enjoys massive corporate welfare through the effect of Section 230, a special immunity from liability that nobody else gets. Congress has given Big Tech, in effect, a subsidy while they become some of the wealthiest corporations on the face of the planet.
ON TWITTER’S DECISIONS TO SILENCE DISSENT
I understand that you [Twitter] have the Star Chamber power. Your answer is always, ‘Well, once we silence you, we can choose to allow you to speak.’ But you are engaged in publishing decisions.
You [Twitter] put up a page that says, ‘Voter fraud of any kind is exceedingly rare in the United States.’ That’s not linking to a broader conversation. That’s taking a disputed policy position, and you’re a publisher when you’re doing that. You’re entitled to take a policy position, but you don’t get to pretend you’re not a publisher and get a special benefit under Section 230 as a result.
Read the transcript of my full line of questioning below.
I have long warned that Big Tech censorship is “the single greatest threat to democracy.” As chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on The Constitution, I am leading the fight in the Senate to hold Big Tech accountable to the American people. Read more about my efforts to demand answers below:
- Questioned the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook, and Google at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing.
- Sent a letter last month to Twitter and Facebook regarding their blatant censorship of The New York Post’s reporting on corruption of Joe and Hunter Biden in China and Ukraine.
- Fought to subpoena both Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, and Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on this political censorship and election interference.
- Chaired multiple hearings with representatives from Twitter, Facebook, and Google, where he raised his concerns about the technology companies engaging in a disturbing pattern of political censorship.
- Heard testimony from Dennis Prager of PragerU, whose videos are routinely censored on YouTube, and Dr. Robert Epstein, a psychologist who testified that Google’s biased search results swung a minimum of 2.6 million votes to Hillary Clinton in 2016.
- Sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, urging him to remove language in U.S. trade agreements similar to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides "near -blanket legal immunity" to technology companies.
- Wrote an op-ed in The Hill in response to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s announcement last week banning all political ads from the platform, calling the move "profoundly harmful."
- Sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai raising concerns about Google’s latest actions to censor political speech with which it disagrees.
- Called for a criminal investigation into Twitter for blatant and willful violation of U.S. sanctions on Iran.
- Sent two letters – one to Google and one to Facebook – slamming the companies for their separate announcements regarding election advertising.
- Joined Parler, an unbiased social media platform.
TRANSCRIPT OF MY FULL LINE OF QUESTIONING
Sen. Cruz: “Facebook, Twitter, and Google have massive power. They have a monopoly on public discourse in the online arena. I will say it’s dismaying listening to the questions from our Democratic colleagues, because consistently the message from Senate Democrats is for Facebook, and Twitter, and Google to censor more. To abuse their power more. To silence voices that Senate Democrats disagree with more. That is very dangerous if we want to maintain a free and fair democracy [and] if we want to maintain free speech.
“There was a time when Democrats embraced and defended the principles of free speech. There was a time when Democrats embraced and defended the principles of a free press. And yet there’s an absolute silence from Democrats speaking up for the press outlets censored by Big Tech. There’s an absolute silence for Democrats speaking out for the citizens silenced by Big Tech. Instead, there is a demand [to] use even more power to silence dissent. And that’s a totalitarian instinct that I think is very dangerous.
“At the same time that Big Tech exercises massive power, it also enjoys massive corporate welfare through the effect of Section 230, a special immunity from liability that nobody else gets. Congress has given Big Tech, in effect, a subsidy while they become some of the wealthiest corporations on the face of the planet. Mr. Dorsey, I want to focus primarily on Twitter and ask you initially, is Twitter a publisher?”
Mr. Dorsey: “Is Twitter a publisher? No, we are not. We distribute information.”
Sen. Cruz: “So what is a publisher?”
Mr. Dorsey: “An entity that is publishing under editorial guidelines and decisions.”
Sen. Cruz: “Well, your answer happens to be contrary to the text of federal statute, particularly Section 230, which defines an internet information content provider as any person or entity that is responsible in whole or in part for the creation or development of information provided through the internet or any other interactive computer service. Let me ask you, was Twitter being a publisher when it censored The New York Post?”
Mr. Dorsey: “No, we have very clear policies on the conduct we enable on the platform and if there’s a violation, we take enforcement action. And people choose to commit to those policies and to those terms of service.”
Sen. Cruz: “Except your policies are applied in a partisan and selective manner. You claim it was hacked materials and yet you didn’t block the distribution of The New York Times story that alleged to talk about President Trump’s tax returns, even though a federal statute makes it a crime to distribute someone’s tax returns without their consent. You didn’t block any of that discussion, did you?”
Mr. Dorsey: “Our policy was focused on distribution of the actual hacked materials. In The New York Times case […] ”
Sen. Cruz: “Did you block the discussion of the president’s tax return material?”
Mr. Dorsey: “In The New York Times case, we interpreted it as reporting about the hacked material, not distribution of hacked material.”
Sen. Cruz: “Did you block Edward Snowden when he illegally released material?”
Mr. Dorsey: “I don’t have the answer to that.”
Sen. Cruz: “The answer is no. You have used this in a selective matter. Let me ask you, were you being a publisher when you forced Politico, another journalistic outlet, to take down their tweets on a topic that you had deemed impermissible?”
Mr. Dorsey: “No, we were enforcing our policy and our terms of service.”
Sen. Cruz: “So on October 15, Jake Sherman, a reporter at Politico, tweeted the following, ‘I tweeted a link to New York Post story right after it dropped yesterday morning, I immediately reached out to the Biden campaign to see if they had any answer. I wish I’d given the story a close read before tweeting it. Twitter suspended me.’
“So you actually have a reporter reporting on a story, asking the other side for comment, and Twitter says, ‘Hi, Jake Sherman, your account @JakeSherman has been locked for violating Twitter rules.’ Now, what did the Politico reporter do? Immediately tweets after that, ‘My goal [was] not to spread information.’ That’s a little worrisome in and of itself. ‘My goal was to raise questions about the story.’ ‘Oh, my overlords in Silicon Valley, I was attacking The New York Post. You don’t understand, I was attacking them.’ ‘As I did in subsequent tweets and see how the Biden campaign was going to respond. They later did respond. And then, not long after, Jake Sherman comes back with, ‘My account is clearly no longer suspended. I deleted the tweet.’
“When Twitter is editing and censoring and silencing The New York Post, a newspaper with the fourth-highest circulation in the country, and Politico, one of the leading newspapers in the country, is Twitter behaving as a publisher when it’s deciding what stories reporters are allowed to write and publish and what stories they’re not?”
Mr. Dorsey: “No, and that account was not suspended. It fell afoul of the hacked materials policy. We realized that there was an error in that policy and the enforcement. We corrected that within 24 hours.”
Sen. Cruz: “Hold on, I’m literally looking at the tweet from Twitter that says, ‘Your account has been locked.’ You’re telling me that this is not accurate?”
Mr. Dorsey: “That’s a lock. It can be unlocked when you delete the tweet.”
Sen. Cruz: “I understand that you have the Star Chamber power. Your answer is always, ‘Well, once we silence you, we can choose to allow you to speak.’ But you are engaged in publishing decisions. Let me shift to a different topic. Mr. Dorsey, does voter fraud exist?”
Mr. Dorsey: “I don’t know for certain.”
Sen. Cruz: “Are you an expert in voter fraud?”
Mr. Dorsey: “No, I’m not.”
Sen. Cruz: “Well, why then is Twitter right now putting purported warnings on virtually any statement about voter fraud?”
Mr. Dorsey: “We’re simply linking to a broader conversation so that people have more information.”
Sen. Cruz: “No you’re not. You put up a page that says, ‘Voter fraud of any kind is exceedingly rare in the United States.’ That’s not linking to a broader conversation. That’s taking a disputed policy position and you’re a publisher when you’re doing that. You’re entitled to take a policy position, but you don’t get to pretend you’re not a publisher and get a special benefit under Section 230 as a result.”
Mr. Dorsey: “That link is pointing to a broader conversation with tweets from publishers and people all around the country.”
Sen. Cruz: “Mr. Dorsey, would the following statement violate Twitter’s policies? ‘Absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud.’”
Mr. Dorsey: “I imagine that we would label it so that people can have more context and read through.”
Sen. Cruz: “How about this quote? [...] Voter fraud is particularly possible where ‘third party organizations candidates and political party activists’ are involved in, ‘handling absentee ballots.’ Would you flag that as potentially misleading?
Mr. Dorsey: “I don’t know the specifics of how we might enforce that, but I imagine a lot of these would have a label pointing people to a clearer conversation. A broader conversation.”
Sen. Cruz: “You’re right, you would label them because you’ve taken the political position right now that voter fraud doesn’t exist. I would note both of those quotes come from the Carter Baker Commission on federal election reform that is Democratic President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State, James Baker. And Twitter’s position is essentially, ‘voter fraud does not exist.’ Are you aware that just two weeks ago in the state of Texas, a woman was charged with 134 counts of election fraud? Are you aware of that?”
Mr. Dorsey: “I’m not aware of that.”
Sen. Cruz: “If I tweeted that statement with a link to the indictment would you put a warning on it that says, ‘well, the Democratic Party position right now is voter fraud doesn’t exist?’”
Mr. Dorsey: “I don’t think it’s useful to get into hypotheticals, but I don’t believe so.”
Sen. Cruz: “You don’t believe so. Well, we’re going to test that because I’m going to tweet that and we’ll see what you put on it.
“Alright, yesterday Mr. Dorsey, you and I spent a considerable amount of time on the phone and you said that you wanted to embrace transparency. So I want to ask you, I’ve asked Twitter, I’ve asked Facebook multiple times, how many times have you blocked Republican candidates for office? Their tweets or their posts in 2016, 2018, and 2020? How many times have you blocked Democratic candidates for office? How many times have you blocked Republican officeholders? How many times have you blocked Democratic officeholders?
“Twitter has repeatedly refused to answer that question with specific hard data and cataloging the examples. In the interest of transparency, which you said you want to embrace, will you commit in this hearing right now to answer those questions in writing?”
Mr. Dorsey: “That’s exactly what we want to do.”
Sen. Cruz: “I’m sorry, Mr. Dorsey, I didn’t hear you.”
Mr. Dorsey: “That’s exactly what we’re pushing for as we think about building upon [Section] 230. It’s transparency, not just [...]”
Sen. Cruz: “Is that a ‘yes’ that you will answer those questions in writing?”
Mr. Dorsey: “Transparency, not just of outcomes but also our process as well.”
Sen. Cruz: “Is that a ‘yes’ that you will answer those questions in writing?”
Mr. Dorsey: “We’ll certainly look into it and see what we can do.”
Sen. Cruz: “And actually answer them? And not give lawyerly doublespeak about why you’re not going to give specifics – answer them. Will you commit to this committee that you will answer those questions?”
Mr. Dorsey: “We’re going to work to answering broader transparency around outcomes.”
Sen. Cruz: “Alright that’s a ‘no.’ Mr. Zuckerberg, how about you? Will you commit that Facebook will answer those specific questions cataloging the number of instances in which Democrats in ‘16, ‘18, and ‘20 have been silenced versus the number of instances in which Republicans have been silenced on Facebook?”
Mr. Zuckerberg: “Senator, I’m not sure if we have that data available, but I will follow up with you or your team.”
Sen. Cruz: “Okay, I’m going to take that as a yes, and I’m going to take Twitter, we’ll see if it’s a ‘yes,’ or ‘transparency is bogus and we don’t intend to provide it.’”