Twitter chief faces GOP anger over bias at hearing

Twitter chief faces GOP anger over bias at hearing
© Greg Nash

House Republicans grilled Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Wednesday during a hearing on alleged bias against conservatives in social media, capping a marathon day of testimony for the Silicon Valley executive.

Dorsey told lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee that Twitter did not intentionally censor conservative voices, but those denials failed to assuage Republicans.

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“I want to start by making something clear: we don’t consider political viewpoints, perspectives, or party affiliation in any of our policies or enforcement decisions. Period. Impartiality is our guiding principle,” Dorsey said, reading his statement from his phone.

Republicans used the hearing to directly confront Dorsey about their allegations and call for action.

“It should now be quite clear that even well-intentioned algorithms can have unintended consequences,” said House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Ex-Rep. John Shimkus joins lobbying firm Lobbying world MORE (R-Ore.).

“Prominent Republicans, including multiple members of Congress and the chairwoman of the Republican Party, have seen their Twitter presences temporarily minimized in recent months, due to what you have claimed was a mistake in the algorithm,” he continued.

Dorsey testified at two back-to-back hearings Wednesday, first before the Senate Intelligence Committee alongside Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg on foreign influence operations, and then alone before the House panel on bias.

The hearings come as Republicans are stepping up their attacks on Silicon Valley over what they see as efforts to silence conservative viewpoints.

Minutes after the Senate hearing ended, Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump Democrat stalls Biden's border nominee Garland strikes down Trump-era immigration court rule, empowering judges to pause cases MORE announced that he’d be convening a meeting with state attorneys
general to look into concerns that tech companies are “hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms.”

Last week, Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchDrug prices are declining amid inflation fears The national action imperative to achieve 30 by 30 Financial market transactions should not be taxed or restricted MORE (R-Utah) asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Google’s market power, and Trump suggested that the tech companies had antitrust problems.

The allegations about anti-conservative bias have yet to be proven, but the attacks have rattled Silicon Valley over the prospect of new regulatory actions.

At the House hearing, Dorsey faced tough questions about a controversy involving Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnBiden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on Biden's misinformation crackdown spotlights partisan divide on content reform White House looks to cool battle with Facebook MORE (R-Tenn.), who had a campaign ad earlier this year on abortion briefly taken down by Twitter.

Dorsey addressed that controversy, saying he was worried about the appearance that Twitter had “adversely affected conservatives.”

Dorsey admitted that the company made a mistake by pulling the video. He also addressed problems with algorithms that saw conservative accounts removed from drop-down search results.

He vowed that Twitter would work to test for inadvertently biased algorithms in the future before implementing them.

Republicans at the hearing hit Dorsey over a number of concerns beyond anti-conservative bias.

Rep. David McKinleyDavid Bennett McKinleyOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court rules that pipeline can seize land from New Jersey | Study: EPA underestimated methane emissions from oil and gas development | Kevin McCarthy sets up task forces on climate, other issues Bipartisan lawmakers back clean electricity standard, but fall short of Biden goal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate path uncertain after House approves Jan. 6 panel MORE slammed Dorsey over illegal drug sales on Twitter. He projected images of tweets purportedly offering to sell cocaine that were posted within the past hour.

“I would be ashamed if I were you,” the West Virginia Republican said. “When you say this is against your public policy and you’ve got ways of being able to filter that out and it’s still getting on there.”

Dorsey agreed that the posts were “unacceptable” and vowed that Twitter would quickly remove them.

Democrats, though, questioned Republicans’ claims of bias and the need for a hearing, suggesting that it was a drummed-up issue to rally the conservative base.

“That’s the whole reason, supposedly, we’re here,” Rep. Mike DoyleMichael (Mike) F. DoyleHouse committee approves slate of bills to improve telecom security Congress needs to fix the broken market for antibiotic development Congressional CEO grillings can't solve disinformation: We need a public interest regulator MORE (D-Pa.) complained. “House Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyAfter police rip Trump for Jan. 6, McCarthy again blames Pelosi Capitol Police asked to arrest the maskless 228 Republican lawmakers urge Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade MORE wrote our chairman a letter and said ‘hey, [conservative bias] is going on and we think your committee should investigate it.’ And it’s a load of crap.”

Democrats did raise their own issues with Dorsey, including how Twitter can better prevent harassment and abuse of individuals on its platform, regardless of political affiliation.

Dorsey said his company needs “to do more around protecting private individuals” and insisted that Twitter is working to improve.

Even with the grilling from the right, Dorsey avoided much of the Republican fury many anticipated.

Dorsey had reached out to conservative lawmakers ahead of the hearing, efforts which were recognized by Walden.

“I do want to take a moment to recognize that you have worked in recent weeks to reach out to conservative audiences and discuss publicly the issues your company is facing,” the chairman said in his opening remarks.

The most contentious moments of the day instead involved far-right internet figures who traveled to Capitol Hill for the hearings.

Infowars founder Alex Jones, who has been suspended from Twitter for violating their content rules, attended the first of Dorsey’s hearings and later tried to confront him as he entered the House committee room.

Jones on Wednesday also clashed with Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioBreak glass in case of emergency — but not for climate change Democrats join GOP in pressuring Biden over China, virus origins Senators introduce bipartisan bill to expand foreign aid partnerships MORE (R-Fla.) after the Senate hearing. Jones at one point reached out to touch Rubio›s shoulder, and the senator warned him not to touch him.

Right-wing political activist Laura Loomer interrupted the House hearing as Rep. Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseRepublican governors revolt against CDC mask guidance House to resume mask mandate after new CDC guidance What you need to know about the new COVID-19 surge MORE (R-La.) finished making comments.

Loomer stood up and yelled: “You are a liar, Jack Dorsey.” She accused him of having been caught on tape showing bias against conservatives.

Loomer’s disruption was drowned out by lawmakers laughing and by Rep. Billy LongWilliam (Billy) H. LongGOP lawmakers demand answers on withheld restitution following Nassar revelation House committee approves slate of bills to improve telecom security Here's what Congress is reading at the beach this summer MORE (R-Mo.) imitating an auctioneer. She was eventually removed by security.