Top lawyers from Google, Facebook, and Twitter this week testified before three congressional panels. While the focus of these hearings was the influence of Russia in the lead-up to last November’s elections, the lines of questioning moved into broader areas of free speech on several occasions.
In the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was very direct with his concerns about “the prospect of Silicon Valley companies actively censoring speech.” He specifically cited Twitter’s recent treatment of Rep. Marsha Blackburn and the Susan B. Anthony list based on their pro-life positions, among other issues. Asked if the tech companies believed they provided "neutral public forums," Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch said, “We think of Facebook as a platform for all ideas." Stretch highlighted boundaries, specifically naming hate speech, but claimed that otherwise Facebook did not discriminate based on viewpoint.
In the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Lone Star State’s other senator, Sen. John Cornyn, questioned the companies on how they differed from newspapers, cable shows, and other publishers of content. Twitter Acting General Counsel Sean Edgett reinforced the general refrain of simply being a user-generated content platform. However, Cornyn replied, “That may well be a distinction that is lost on most of us, that you're just a platform for other people to express their views as opposed to being a publisher in your own right of those views.”
The tech representatives also testified before the House Intelligence Committee.
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: November 3, 2017