Republican social media bias hearing overshadowed by disputes over 'Diamond and Silk'

Republican social media bias hearing overshadowed by disputes over 'Diamond and Silk'
© Greg Nash

A House Judiciary Committee hearing on whether social media platforms discriminate against conservatives may have backfired on its GOP organizers.

The hearing was meant to explore the “filtering practices of social media platforms,” but turned combative as Democratic lawmakers clashed with pro-President TrumpDonald John TrumpLondon terror suspect’s children told authorities he complained about Trump: inquiry The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Trump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency MORE video personalities "Diamond and Silk" over whether their claims of censorship by Facebook are accurate.

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Democrats, who said that they didn't know why the hearing was happening in the first place, hammered Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson — better known as "Diamond and Silk" — over inconsistencies in their claims that Facebook had censored their content or downplayed their reach on the platform.

The duo answered “yes” to lawmakers' questions about whether or not they were blocked on the platform, although Facebook never suspended their profile. 

The House Judiciary Committee's top Democrat, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), slammed the claim during his remarks, citing the pair's audience growth as proof that the platform wasn't punishing them for being conservative.

“Diamond and Silk's tremendous reach and growth is evidence that they haven’t been censored,” he said.

Richardson and Hardaway also maintained that they had not received communication from Facebook over the platform’s policy changes, although conservative writer Erick Erickson published emails showing otherwise.

Democrats also dug into Hardaway's and Richardson's claim that they hadn’t received any money from President Trump's campaign, even though Federal Election Commission filings show the pair received more than $1,000 from the campaign for "field consulting."

After Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesMeek Mill: I now feel a responsibility to 'help change the world' Connect Beltway to America to get federal criminal justice reform done Dem lawmaker labels Trump the ‘Grand Wizard of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave’ MORE (D-N.Y.) cited the FEC filing, Richardson called the idea a “lie” and described it as “fake news.”

The two women claimed that the "field consulting" description may have been a mistake by the Trump campaign, saying that the money was instead reimbursement for travel during a Trump campaign tour.

Bradley Crate, Trump’s campaign treasurer, agreed that the payment was a travel reimbursement in a statement to The Hill.

Richardson and Hardaway were invited to testify regarding their experiences as conservatives that had allegedly experienced bias from technology companies. Diamond and Silk have a very large profile on social media, with 1.5 million Facebook followers and almost 150,000 YouTube subscribers.

The hearing, which Democrats described as a “spectacle,” frustrated Republicans outside of Congress who have concerns about social media bias against conservatives, but thought the hearing failed to actually address that issue.

“They took some genuine concerns that conservatives have with big tech bias against conservative content and undermined those concerns by highlighting completely ridiculous claims,” said Tim Miller, a GOP operative and the former communications director for Jeb Bush's 2016 presidential campaign who has since become an outspoken critic of Trump.

Miller said that he was irritated with House Judiciary Republicans' decision to invite Hardaway and Richardson because of the lingering questions about whether their claims of censorship are accurate.

“It was pretty foreseeable, was the thing,” Miller said.

Michael Duncan of Cavalry, LLC, a Republican digital advocacy firm, echoed Miller’s sentiments.

“I think there are plenty of instances that we can look to have a meaningful dialogue to have censorship on the right online. I don’t think this was the best one,” he said.

Duncan argued that some Republicans in the hearing undermined conservative ideas about small government by advocating for regulating speech on private platforms.

Duncan pointed to an instance in which Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh and his accuser will testify publicly The Memo: Kavanaugh firestorm consumes political world Kavanaugh becomes September surprise for midterm candidates MORE’s (R-Tenn.) Senate campaign announcement video was banned from appearing as an advertisement on Twitter because it attacked Planned Parenthood as a better example of Silicon Valley bias against conservatives.

Blackburn did give testimony at the beginning of the hearing, but her remarks were overshadowed by Hardaway's and Richardson's contentious responses to lawmaker questions.

Judiciary Republicans who had hoped to cast Facebook in a negative light may have done the opposite.  

“The hearing created a sense of sympathy for Facebook,” said Alan Rosenblatt, director of digital research at the left-leaning opinion firm Lake Research Partners.

“What they’ve shown is the people who are complaining about Facebook are nuts. It’s incredible, the level of absurdity that they’ve taken political discourse to. It’s just sad.”

Beyond distracting from arguments about conservative bias, strategists said that Republicans may have also helped contribute to the narrative that lawmakers don’t have a firm grasp of how Facebook actually works.

“This must be what it was like a hundred years ago watching politicians who came up in the 19th century try to come to terms with radio. The technology exceeds their communication skills,” said Craig Varoga, a Democratic political strategist.

“Combine that with knee-jerk grandstanding, witnesses who can’t keep their own facts straight, and a political culture of excessive accusation, and it’s not surprising that today’s hearing blew up the way that it did,” he said.