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 WaldenEXCLUSIVE: Swing-state voters oppose 'surprise' medical bill legislation, Trump pollster warns House panel investigating private equity firms' role in surprise medical billing Hotel industry mounts attack on Airbnb with House bill 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 SessionsLewandowski says he's under no obligation to speak truthfully to the media Nadler considering holding Lewandowski in contempt Lewandowski, Democrats tangle at testy hearing 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 to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom Trump awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist, former Reagan adviser Arthur Laffer Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators 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 BlackburnThe evolution of Taylor Swift's political activism Kellyanne Conway responds to Taylor Swift criticism by invoking pop star's lyrics Is there internet life after thirty? 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. DoyleHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment House panel advances anti-robocall bill House Democrats seek bipartisan working group on net neutrality MORE (D-Pa.) complained. “House Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyGOP struggles with retirement wave Trump touts Washington Post story on GOP support Pence extends olive branch to Cummings after Trump's Baltimore attacks 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 RubioRepublicans wary of US action on Iran California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation 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 ScaliseOn The Money: Senate panel scraps vote on key spending bill amid standoff | Democrats threaten to vote against defense bill over wall funding | Trump set to meet with aides about reducing capital gains taxes Overnight Energy: House moves to block Trump drilling | House GOP rolls out proposal to counter offshore drilling ban | calls mount for NOAA probe House GOP rolls out energy proposal to counter Democrats offshore drilling ban 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. LongT-Mobile merger poses more questions than answers GOP pushes back on net neutrality bill at testy hearing The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers wait for Trump's next move on border deal MORE (R-Mo.) imitating an auctioneer. She was eventually removed by security.