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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 WaldenDems to ramp up oversight of Trump tech regulators Overnight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump insists GOP will 'totally' protect people with pre-existing conditions | Landmark opioid bill signed into law | Report finds agencies blindsided by 'zero tolerance' policy Vulnerable Republicans throw ‘Hail Mary’ on pre-existing conditions 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 to oust Nielsen as early as this week: report Acting AG will meet with DOJ ethics officials to discuss possible recusal: reports Swalwell calls acting AG an 'assassin' hired to 'take out' Mueller probe 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 HatchCongress braces for high-drama lame duck Trump to award Medal of Freedom to Babe Ruth, Elvis, Scalia, Hatch How much power do states have? Supreme Court holds the answer 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 BlackburnDems vow swift action on gun reform next year Blackburn calls for addressing mental health issues after California shooting Dems to ramp up oversight of Trump tech regulators 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 McKinleySuper PACs spend big in high-stakes midterms Twitter chief faces GOP anger over bias at hearing Live coverage: Social media execs face grilling on Capitol Hill 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. DoyleDems to ramp up oversight of Trump tech regulators Twitter chief faces GOP anger over bias at hearing Live coverage: Social media execs face grilling on Capitol Hill MORE (D-Pa.) complained. “House Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyOvernight Energy: Trump, California leaders clash over fires | Trump says oil prices should be 'much lower' | Zinke criticizes media coverage | Officials consider new truck pollution rule Trump, California battle over climate and cause of fires Juan Williams: Trump's hostile takeover of the GOP 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 RubioJeb Bush calls for Broward County official to be removed from post Florida Dem rep: Scott is 'spinning conspiracy theories' Gillum retracts concession in Florida governor's race 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 ScaliseScalise: Investigations into Trump by House Democrats could backfire Congress braces for high-drama lame duck On The Money: Waters will soon wield gavel in feud with White House | McHenry announces bid for Financial Services ranking member | Fed keeps rates steady in November 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. LongThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Booker releases 'confidential' Kavanaugh documents | Anonymous attack shocks White House | Officials rush to deny writing op-ed Twitter chief faces GOP anger over bias at hearing Far-right activist interrupts Twitter hearing MORE (R-Mo.) imitating an auctioneer. She was eventually removed by security.