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 WaldenTrump order on drug prices faces long road to finish line Ignore the misinformation: The FDA will ensure the safety of any COVID-19 vaccine Hillicon Valley: Trump backs potential Microsoft, TikTok deal, sets September deadline | House Republicans request classified TikTok briefing | Facebook labels manipulated Pelosi video 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 SessionsTrump's policies on refugees are as simple as ABCs Ocasio-Cortez, Velázquez call for convention to decide Puerto Rico status White House officials voted by show of hands on 2018 family separations: report 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 HatchBottom line Bottom line Senate GOP divided over whether they'd fill Supreme Court vacancy  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 BlackburnDemocrats smell blood with new DHS whistleblower complaint Hillicon Valley: Election officials prepare for new Russian interference battle | 'Markeyverse' of online fans helps take down a Kennedy | GOP senators unveil bill to update tech liability protections GOP senators unveil new bill to update tech liability protections 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 McKinleyEnergy secretary says pipeline setbacks pose national security issue MLB, Congress play hardball in fight over minor leagues Koch campaign touts bipartisan group behind ag labor immigration bill 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. DoyleHillicon Valley: Facebook removed over 22 million posts for hate speech in second quarter | Republicans introduce bill to defend universities against hackers targeting COVID-19 research | Facebook's Sandberg backs Harris as VP pick House Democrats pressure Facebook oversight board to address racist, voter suppression content Hillicon Valley: Facebook civil rights audit finds 'serious setbacks' | Facebook takes down Roger Stone-affiliated accounts, pages | State and local officials beg Congress for more elections funds MORE (D-Pa.) complained. “House Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyTrump asked Chamber of Commerce to reconsider Democratic endorsements: report The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - White House moves closer to Pelosi on virus relief bill Trump's sharp words put CDC director on hot seat 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 RubioFlorida senators pushing to keep Daylight Savings Time during pandemic Hillicon Valley: DOJ indicts Chinese, Malaysian hackers accused of targeting over 100 organizations | GOP senators raise concerns over Oracle-TikTok deal | QAnon awareness jumps in new poll Intelligence chief says Congress will get some in-person election security briefings 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 ScaliseHouse GOP slated to unveil agenda ahead of election House panel details 'serious' concerns around Florida, Georgia, Texas, Wisconsin elections Scalise hit with ethics complaint over doctored Barkan video 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. LongMissouri Rep. Billy Long wins GOP primary The Hill's Coronavirus Report: GoDaddy CEO Aman Bhutani says DC policymakers need to do more to support ventures and 'solo-preneurs'; Federal unemployment benefits expire as coronavirus deal-making deadlocks Lawmaker says he urged Pelosi to auction ripped up speech for charity MORE (R-Mo.) imitating an auctioneer. She was eventually removed by security.