Democrats blast GOP for ‘wasting our time’ in hearing over ‘Twitter Files’
Democrats formed a united front Wednesday, painting Republicans as staging a distracting political stunt during the GOP’s first hearing targeting social media companies’ content policies.
Republicans grilled former Twitter executives at a hearing of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee over their decision to limit the spread of a story about President Biden’s son more than two years ago.
The hearing fulfilled a pledge GOP officials made to use their newly reclaimed House majority to crusade against continuing allegations of anti-conservative censorship by social media companies.
The heated hearing, interrupted by a brief power outage in the room, showcased a hyper-partisan divide in the House on content moderation issues.
Republicans pressed the former Twitter employees present on internal communications published through a Twitter thread in December. Democrats sought to highlight concerns about the spread of pro-Trump election misinformation that fueled the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol.
“I don’t know precisely how we are going to solve the problem of private social media platforms being used for the organization of political coups and incitement of violent insurrections. But this is a grave problem confronting democracy in America and all over the world, not a phony, silly, concocted partisan issue,” ranking member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said.
Other Democrats expressed irritation about the hearing being held at all.
“We’re wasting our time here bullying former Twitter employees,” Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) said. “It’s calling the refs, so that way in the future when they want disinformation to be put on the internet, social media companies will be scared to call them out down the road.”
The hearing was centered on Twitter’s decision in 2020 to limit the spread of a New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s laptop. Twitter later reversed the decision, allowing the story to be shared.
Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey later called it a mistake.
Republicans alleged Wednesday that the decision was a violation of their First Amendment rights and was made at the behest of Democrats.
The documents released by Twitter CEO Elon Musk as part of the “Twitter Files,” however, did not show direct requests from Democrats to impact the spread of the story.
Twitter’s former chief legal officer Vijaya Gadde, former deputy general counsel James Baker and former global head of trust and safety Yoel Roth did not testify that they had knowledge of any such demands when pressed by members.
Roth said Twitter “explicitly separated” teams that interacted with campaigns from teams like his, which were responsible for content moderation.
Roth said he would not agree with the characterization of Twitter removing tweets at the “behest of” the Biden campaign. Tweets could be reported to Twitter and then independently evaluated, he said.
In contrast, when asked by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) if former President Trump made a request to remove a 2019 tweet by model Chrissy Teigen that criticized the then-president, a former member of Twitter’s safety policy team, Anika Collier Navaroli, said he did.
The tweet by Teigen was posted after Trump tweeted about her and her husband, musician John Legend.
Navaroli said she was not responsible for receiving such government requests in her role, but her supervisors let her know such a request was made from the White House to evaluate the tweet.
“It wasn’t Joe Biden about his son’s laptop, it was Donald Trump because he didn’t like what Chrissy Teigen had to say about him. Is that correct?” Connolly asked.
“Yes, that is correct,” she said.
Beyond the scope of the handling of the Hunter Biden story, the GOP accused Twitter, a private company, of First Amendment violations based on the enforcement of their policies.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who was given committee positions this year after being stripped of assignments last Congress, slammed the former employees over Twitter’s banning her own account.
Her personal account was banned in January 2022 over repeated violations of the COVID-19 misinformation policy. It was reinstated in November, under Musk’s control.
Greene used her time to berate Twitter employees present, but she did not ask them a single question.
Democrats were quick to point out that the First Amendment protects Twitter, and other companies, from removing or allowing whatever content they see fit and to create policies that do that.
“Despite all their mentioning of the First Amendment, they have not even made any sort of legal or legislative argument as to what the tie here is behind a personal grievance,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) told The Hill.
She called the hearing an “embarrassment” and “abuse of public resources.”
“The Republican side is not even making any sort of request, no matter how partisan it is, about what the course of action, what we’re even doing here is. Why is the Oversight Committee even relevant to Twitter’s content moderation policies?” she said.
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