This week the House Judiciary Committee held an important hearing on “Filtering Practices of Social Media Platforms,” with a particular focus on viewpoint suppression. Despite featuring Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and social media commentators Diamond and Silk, all victims of online censorship incidents, leading Democrats had the audacity to call the premise of the hearing a “hoax” and essentially a waste of time.
In his opening statement, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the top Democrat on the committee, declared, “The notion that social media companies are filtering out conservative voices is a hoax—a tired narrative of imagined victimhood as the rest of the country grapples with a feckless President and an out-of-control Administration.” Similarly, Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), who sat as a counter witness to Blackburn, accused the committee’s leaders of pushing a “dishonest narrative.” He said it was a “hoax, now fully rebutted, that Facebook and other social media companies have mounted a crusade to filter out conservative opinion.”
The problem for these Democrats is that the problem of viewpoint discrimination is, sadly, not a hoax. While Nadler and others tried to play off the assertions of two men on the panel to declare that there was no pattern of censorship, this strikingly ignored the detailed testimony of Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson (Diamond and Silk) to the contrary. It also ignored the testimony of Blackburn. Moreover, it ignores the declaration of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in November that edge providers “routinely block or discriminate against content they don’t like.”
House Democrats were not willing to see the problem, however. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) called the hearing “stupid and ridiculous," a sentiment that seemed to be shared by a number of his Democrat colleagues. Several Democrats also sought to undermine the claims of the victims before them. Diamond and Silk were clearly aggravated by how they were treated. “Shame on the people who don't see we've been censored,” said Hardaway. She added, "Let me just say this right here. If the shoe was on the other foot and Mark Zuckerberg was a conservative, and we were liberals, all fences and all chains would've broke loose, you know it and I know it!"
While some may not wish it to be true, NRB has in fact documented a pattern of Christian and conservative content being censored by Silicon Valley titans. Its Internet Freedom Watch initiative (internetfreedomwatch.org) shows examples of censorship in a timeline dating back to Apple’s 2010 discrimination against the late Chuck Colson’s Manhattan Declaration app. In a letter from NRB President & CEO Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, which was included in the hearing’s public record by Chairman Goodlatte, Johnson said we were at a “pivotal moment.” He called on tech titans, who noticeably skipped the hearing, to do the right thing by “proactively and publicly declaring a robust and unapologetic stand for the free speech rights of their users.” Johnson also thanked Goodlatte for holding the hearing, because, he said, “We must determine if we are facing algorithmic or human discrimination and what is being done to correct this problem in either case.”
Chairman Goodlatte declared his determination to get answers from the Big Tech corporations. “This committee will take whatever steps necessary to obtain answers directly from these tech companies so that we can better understand their filtering practices in order to promote freedom of speech on the internet,” he said.
For her part, Blackburn, who also chairs the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s powerful subcommittee relevant to this matter, expressed solidarity with the many who have faced viewpoint censorship. “I had the ability to fight back. Diamond and Silk had the ability to fight back,” she said. “But what about the thousands of others being thrown out of our new public squares for no good reason? We are here today to speak up for them, and we are here today to speak up for free speech."
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: April 27, 2018