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 WaldenHillicon Valley: Twitter shares more details on political ad rules | Supreme Court takes up Google-Oracle fight | Pentagon chief defends Microsoft cloud contract House, Senate announce agreement on anti-robocall bill House panel advances flavored e-cigarette ban 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 SessionsThe Hill's Campaign Report: Late bids surprise 2020 Democratic field Sessions vows to 'work for' Trump endorsement Sanford: 'It carries real weight' to speak against Trump 'while in office' 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 HatchTrump awards Medal of Freedom to racing industry icon Roger Penske Trump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals Trump to award Medal of Freedom to former Attorney General Edwin Meese 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 BlackburnTrump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition Progressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising On The Money: US paid record .1B in tariffs in September | Dems ramp up oversight of 'opportunity zones' | Judge hints at letting House lawsuit over Trump tax returns proceed 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 McKinleyBipartisan former EPA chiefs say Trump administration has abandoned agency's mission Thirty-four GOP members buck Trump on disaster bill Divisions emerge over House drug price bills 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. DoyleDemocrats demand FCC act over leak of phone location data Hillicon Valley: Google, Reddit to testify on tech industry protections | Trump joins Amazon-owned Twitch | House to vote on bill to combat foreign interference Reddit, Google to testify before House panel on tech's legal protections MORE (D-Pa.) complained. “House Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyHarris introduces bill to prevent California wildfires McCarthy says views on impeachment won't change even if Taylor's testimony is confirmed House Republicans call impeachment hearing 'boring,' dismiss Taylor testimony as hearsay 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 RubioGOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump Paul's demand to out whistleblower rankles GOP colleagues 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 ScaliseLive updates on impeachment: Schiff fires warning at GOP over whistleblower Bottom Line Trump allies assail impeachment on process while House Democrats promise open hearings soon 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. LongLawmakers from both sides of the aisle mourn Cummings Lawmakers toast Greta Van Susteren's new show Trump honors Stanley Cup champions, talks impeachment, Turkey MORE (R-Mo.) imitating an auctioneer. She was eventually removed by security.