Republicans were united in fury at the major tech CEOs on Tuesday when Twitter chief Jack Dorsey and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg appeared for a Senate hearing entitled, “Breaking the News: Censorship, Suppression, and the 2020 Election.”
But perhaps no one was more fired up than Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who used her time to lash out at the Silicon Valley titans for using U.S. law as a shield in their war against free speech.
“You have used this power to run amok. You have used it to silence conservatives,” she said. “You have used it to build your list. You have used this power to act like you hold all the power, that you can make these decisions. You have driven this cancel culture because you have not called to account your moderators. You have refused to take responsibility for your employees and their actions, so, thereby, reining you in on issues of privacy, data security, content moderation, liability protections, defining who is a publisher in the virtual space, that is up to us because you have proven you do not have the will, the strength, the ability, and you will not accept the responsibility to do it for yourselves.”
After this strong opening, Blackburn turned to Zuckerberg: “Does Facebook routinely censor a user’s account at the behest of a foreign government?”
When Zuck stumbled through a hesitant answer, she interrupted to ask, “Did Facebook shut down and ban the account of a Vietnamese dissident because he criticized the government’s land policy?”
The Tennessee Republican also inquired as to whether or not Facebook is upholding an “anti-blasphemy policy” in Turkey where they will abide by any takedown orders given to them by the Turkish government, particularly as they pertain to pictures of Muhammad. Zuckerberg said that Facebook does not “have a policy against that,” but Blackburn shut him down: “The answer is yes.”
Blackburn’s point, which is so often missed by people who use the “freedom of speech only applies to the federal government” argument, is that American companies like Facebook who enjoy the protections and benefits of U.S. law, should be living by the same principles that are enshrined in the Constitution. These companies are unprecedented when it comes to the amount of power their wield – domestically and abroad. It is absolutely the Senate’s place to make sure they are wielding that power responsibly.
And can anyone genuinely argue that they are?