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Senators Cruz and Hawley Demand Federal Trade Commission Investigation of Big Tech’s Content Moderation

Andrew Feinberg

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WASHINGTON, July 15, 2019 -- Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley want the Federal Trade Commission to use its investigatory authority to demand internal documents and information pertaining to content moderation policies at major technology companies like Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, and to release those documents to the public.

In a Monday letter to all five members of the FTC, Cruz, R-Texas, and Hawley, R-Mo., ask that the commission use its authority to compel production of documents related to "conduct" and "practices" concerning "how major tech companies curate content."

"We write to encourage the FTC to exercise its section 6(b) authority to investigate how major tech companies curate content. As you know, you do not need a law-enforcement purpose to investigate these companies. The law provides the tools needed to force companies to give you the information necessary to investigate their 'conduct” and “practices,'" Cruz and Hawley wrote.

In their letter, Cruz and Hawley repeat a number of false and claims and conspiracy theories centered around the idea that tech companies are actively working to suppress speech by conservative.

"[T]hey actively censor some content and amplify other content based on algorithms and intentional decisions that are completely nontransparent," they wrote, adding that "possibilities for abuse in this area are alarming and endless."

Cruz and Hawley describe the routine process of content moderation and search result curation that search engines and social media platforms need to engage in to have a usable website as "censorship" that is "impossible to detect," and repeat a claim made by President Trump that major technology companies are working to prevent his reelection by suppressing speech by his supporters. No evidence has been provided to justify this claim.

"By controlling the content we see, these companies are powerful enough to—at the very least—sway elections,” read the Cruz-Hawley statement. “And we’re told we have to be satisfied simply with trusting them not to abuse this immense power…. Companies that are this big and that have the potential to threaten democracy this much should not be allowed to curate content entirely without any transparency."

"These companies can greatly influence democratic outcomes, yet they have no accountability to voters. They are not even accountable to their own customers because nobody knows how these companies curate content."

Cruz and Hawley have repeatedly argued that tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter deliberately censor conservatives. They evidence in support of support statements appears to be limited to the fact that some users who identify as conservatives have been banned from these platform because of the platforms’ enforcement of terms of service against hate speech and harassment.

Hawley has routinely decried technology companies' immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act -- which prevents them from being sued for statements made by a user of their platforms - as "a special giveaway from government." Hawley incorrectly argues that Section 230 was conditioned upon a grant of political neutrality.

The freshman senator, who previously served as Missouri's Attorney General, recently introduced legislation that would eliminate technology companies' immunity under Section 230 unless they can prove to four of five FTC commissioners that their content moderation policies do not disproportionally impact conservatives.

Berin Szoka, president of free-market think tank TechFreedom, said Cruz and Hawley's demand for an FTC probe raised them to "new heights in hypocrisy."

"It is, once again, utterly nauseating to see two Harvard educated [Federalist Society] members pervert the First Amendment into a sword by which to promote the agenda of their political tribe, rather than a shield against government meddling," said Szoka, who previously testified at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the subject.

(Photo of Sen. Josh Hawley and Sen. Ted Cruz via Campus Reform.)

 

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