On Tuesday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called out major social media platforms for essentially being biased and anti-social.
Internet giants Facebook, Google and Twitter basically sent their lawyers to Capitol Hill to answer questions regarding social media and Russian influence in the 2016 elections from the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism.
But rather than just harping on the media-driven narrative that ads on social media platforms helped Trump win the presidential campaign, Cruz focused on discrimination by the companies themselves against Republican candidates and conservative organizations alike.
“The prospect of Silicon Valley companies actively censoring speech, or the news content, is troubling to anyone who cares about a democratic process with a robust First Amendment,” Cruz leveled.
Cruz cited a 2015 Northwestern University study that said that “a vast majority of news outlets that were represented in Google searches were Left-leaning.”
“It’s not just Google, “Cruz continued. “According to reports, Facebook workers were artificially spiking conservative stories, including stories about former IRS official Lois Lerner, former Navy Seal Chris Kyle, and positive stories about conservative politicians.”
Cruz also called out Twitter for its censorship of incumbent House candidate Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and video ad by the conservative organization, the Susan B. Anthony List.
“Do you consider your sites to be neutral public forum?” Cruz then asked the representatives from both Facebook and Twitter.
Both Facebook and Twitter gave very bland, form answers in saying that their companies are platforms for freedom of speech and expression. Neither addressed Cruz’s sourced information about their companies.
Facebook Vice President and General Counsel Colin Stretch did note that Facebook’s algorithm does take into account what a user likes or comments on frequently.
“We don’t think of it in the terms of 'neutral,'” Stretch said, “because what we’re trying to do, actually, is provide each user a personalized news feed that would be the content that’s most interesting to that user.”
That kind of negates the whole concept of an open exchange of ideas and opinions. Yes, each user will see more items that they like, but it closes off their feed to opposing thought that can be productive in understanding certain topics.
Stretch added the companies are “acutely aware of the possibility of unconscious bias across a range of issues” from company employees tasked with monitoring the platform's algorithm.
"Similarly at Twitter, we are spending a lot of time training these employees who are looking at user reports on organic tweets," Twitter Acting General Counsel Sean Edgett claimed. "We have stricter policies around advertisements. Since we are serving those ads to folks aren’t following the accounts, and haven’t asked to see the content, we want to make sure it’s always a positive experience. But even there, we’re making tough calls and learning from mistakes and revising policies and procedures moving forward."
"But our goal, and one of our fundamental principles that the company is to remain impartial," he added.