This morning, the House Judiciary Committee will hear arguments on whether Facebook, Google, Twitter and other large technology companies are discriminating against conservatives. In a way, it's a smaller version of Facebook's marathon audience earlier this month, but instead of focusing on general questions about the social responsibilities of web platforms, it's pulling out a politically charged thread specific to those audiences. It is also another way to present Diamond and Silk in Congress.
Here is the background of the audience, which starts at 10 AM.
What is this audience about?
According to the title, the panel will examine "the filtering practices of social networks and their effect on freedom of expression, more specifically, it will focus on what metrics social media platforms use to moderate content, how they are taken the filtering decisions and if the views have been silenced in some of the most popular and extensive sites, platforms used. "
What is it really about?
If Facebook, Twitter and Google have intentionally censored the conservative users due to the liberal tendencies of Silicon Valley.
Apparently fewer people than the organizers expected. The audience was supposed to be divided into three panels: one with Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN); a second with representatives of Facebook, Google and Twitter; and a third party presenting members of EFF and News Media Alliance, as well as vloggers Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, better known as Diamond and Silk.
But since the original announcement, the EFF has informed Axios that he is leaving the panel, saying that "the audience thought they had changed a lot" and "it did not seem like he was digging in substance". On the other hand, the chairman of the expert committee of TechFreedom, Berin Szóka, announced that he is testifying at the hearing and has published written testimonies online.
Facebook, Google and Twitter were listed as guests instead of confirmed, and Facebook officially declined their invitation yesterday, saying they would carry out "an ongoing dialogue with committee members" outside the audience. "Twitter and Google have not responded officially by no means.
In practical terms, this hearing could end up being very much a tribune for Blackburn, Hardaway and Richardson, all of whom have complained about being censored by social networks.
Depends on the definition of censorship Last year, Twitter banned Blackburn from promoting a video ad in which he bragged to stop "the sale of baby body parts," arguing that he violated the rules against "Incendiary" advertising: Twitter retracted the decision a day later, saying it had reconsidered the statement in the context of its largest ad and decided to allow He did not try to prevent Blackburn from publishing the video as an unsent tweet.
More recently, Diamond and Silk, who make videos about their unconditional support for Donald Trump, claimed that Facebook was limiting the scope of their account because of their political opinions. This is a difficult claim to prove, and Facebook said to ThinkProgress that any change in performance was due to major changes in Facebook's algorithms, something ThinkProgress backed with an investigation. However, the company also acknowledged having sent and then withdrawn an "inaccurate" email, saying that "the policy team has concluded that [Diamond and Silk’s] the content and its brand have been considered unsafe for the community" .
quoted Diamond and Silk and this comment several times during last week's Facebook hearings, at points that apparently disturbed Mark Zuckerberg.
Are other conservatives being censored?
Once again, it is extremely complicated. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have faced cases in which they censored or suspended a conservative user and ended up retracting the decision after criticism. At one point, YouTube said its moderators may have erroneously marked several accounts that included conservative figures like Alex Jones, who has trafficked conspiracy theories of "crisis actors" that YouTube has tried to take harshly. And some platform decisions can also be seen as intrinsically anti-conservative, like banning weapons videos.
But platform moderation is often simply terrible in general, regardless of ideology. LGBT YouTube users, for example, have also complained that their videos are being unfairly restricted. Therefore, it is difficult to say whether these companies disproportionately disregard conservative political groups, or whether those groups are more likely to interpret mistakes as evidence of a coordinated campaign against them.
Censorship is also a confusing term. In many of these cases, including Diamond and Silk, the platforms do not suspend any account or delete any publication. They put the content of the users behind an age verification screen, which eliminates the possibility of publishing ads against them or of rejecting their promotion. It is more difficult for these users to spread their message or earn money, but they are not being silenced openly in the way that "censorship" often implies.
The exception is the right-wing racist genocidal political movements, including Atomwaffen, a white supremacist group that is linked to multiple murders. But defending neo-Nazis as part of the conservative movement is not a great look.
Will this lead to legal changes?
It is theoretically possible. Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have suggested that only "neutral platforms" are protected from liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This is a very bad reading of Section 230, but lawmakers also gave a blow to the rule with the FOSTA-SESTA amendment, and if they feel strong enough about the application of political neutrality, They could try to change it again.
The president of the Federal Commission of Communions, Ajit Pai, previously complained about the "discrimination" against the conservatives when arguing against the neutrality of the network, so we could see that the agency reviewed the matter in some moment.
But as EFF said it seems that it will solve serious political problems. It is a platform for conservative legislators to talk about a controversial issue that is extremely difficult to actually examine, but which is very easy to organize.