Twit­ter, Face­book re­buff Cruz’s ‘anec­dotes,’ deny bias on pol­i­tics

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Twit­ter told sen­a­tors last week that it doesn’t hold a bias against con­ser­va­tives, say­ing the so­cial me­dia gi­ant stud­ied tweets by all Democrats and Repub­li­cans in Congress this year and found they drew sim­i­lar rates of view­er­ship.

Democrats did tweet more, but once Twit­ter ad­justed for those kinds of fac­tors, the com­pany said “there is no sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence be­tween the num­ber of times a Tweet by a Democrat is viewed ver­sus a Tweet by a Repub­li­can.”

Carlos Monje Jr., Twit­ter’s di­rec­tor of pub­lic pol­icy, made that claim in a hear­ing be­fore the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary sub­com­mit­tee on the Con­sti­tu­tion, even as he apol­o­gized to Sen. Mar­sha Black­burn, Ten­nessee Repub­li­can, af­ter his com­pany pulled a pro­life ad she tried to run in her 2017 cam­paign tout­ing her role in stop­ping “the sale of baby body parts” by Planned Par­ent­hood.

“The no­tion that we would si­lence any po­lit­i­cal per­spec­tive is an­ti­thet­i­cal to our com­mit­ment to free ex­pres­sion,” Mr. Monje said.

Face­book like­wise said it holds no ex­plicit bias and is work­ing to con­trol im­plicit bi­ases that may re­sult from a com­pany based in the left-wing bas­tion of Silicon Val­ley.

“We do not sup­press con­ser­va­tive speech,” said Neil Potts, Face­book’s pub­lic pol­icy di­rec­tor.

The as­sur­ances weren’t re­as­sur­ing to Se­nate Repub­li­cans, who called the hear­ing to de­mand more ev­i­dence and trans­parency.

Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Repub­li­can and chair­man of the Con­sti­tu­tion sub­com­mit­tee, said it is tough to square those claims with the over­whelm­ing num­ber of sto­ries of con­ser­va­tives hav­ing their ac­tiv­i­ties hid­den or cen­sored — and a strik­ing lack of sim­i­lar re­ports on the left.

“These anec­dotes all seem to be con­sis­tently on one side of the spec­trum,” he said.

Nei­ther Mr. Potts nor Mr. Monje was able to give Mr. Cruz the data he wanted to set­tle the is­sue, though Mr. Monje said some Demo­cratic mem­bers of Congress and gov­er­nors have had their accounts sanc­tioned be­cause they broke terms of use or a new “im­per­son­ation” pol­icy.

He re­fused to re­veal who he was talk­ing about be­cause that would vi­o­late those Democrats’ pri­vacy.

“If you are not en­gaged in cen­sor­ship, releasing the data … would go a long way in ei­ther clear­ing it up or in demon­strat­ing there’s a per­sis­tent pat­tern of bias,” Mr. Cruz said.

Both companies ac­knowl­edged tough cases and mis­takes. Twit­ter car­ries 500 mil­lion tweets a day, mean­ing an er­ror rate of one in a mil­lion amounts to 500 botches per day.

Mr. Monje said that while Twit­ter doesn’t in­tend to sti­fle the ex­change of ideas, it does want to strip out hate­ful or hurt­ful ex­pres­sions be­cause that is the only way to pro­tect free speech.

“If peo­ple don’t feel safe to speak, they very of­ten won’t,” he said.

Google was in­vited to ap­pear, but Mr. Cruz said the com­pany didn’t of­fer a suf­fi­ciently high-ranking rep­re­sen­ta­tive. He said Google will face its own hear­ing later.

Also tes­ti­fy­ing was the man be­hind the new film “Un­planned,” which tells the true story of a for­mer Planned Par­ent­hood clinic di­rec­tor who, af­ter watch­ing an ul­tra­sound of a real-time abor­tion, quit and be­came a pro-life advocate.

Screen­writer Chuck Konzel­man said Google Ads blocked all of the movie’s pre­re­lease ban­ner ads and claimed it didn’t take abor­tion-re­lated ma­te­ri­als. Mr. Konzel­man won­dered whether the same pro­hi­bi­tion will ap­ply to two pro­choice films he said are in de­vel­op­ment.

Mr. Konzel­man said Twit­ter sus­pended the film’s mar­ket­ing ac­count early one morn­ing last month. The ac­count was re­stored, but Mr. Konzel­man said he never re­ceived a suf­fi­cient ex­pla­na­tion. Then Twit­ter users be­gan to be dropped as fol­low­ers, he said.

Face­book did not give him any prob­lems, he said, and he cred­ited the plat­form with mas­sive exposure, in­clud­ing 12 mil­lion views of the movie’s trailer.

Democrats doubted re­ports of bias but had their own gripes with the companies, say­ing they didn’t act fast enough to pull down hate­ful or of­fen­sive con­tent.

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