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