House Judiciary Committee’s “Stupid and Ridiculous Hearing” on Social Media

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Thursday to  “examine how social media companies filter content on their platforms.”  House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) opened the hearing by stressing that

There is . . . a fine line between removing illegal activity and suppressing speech.  And while these companies may have legal, economic, and ideological reasons to manage their content like a traditional media outlet, we must nevertheless weigh as a nation whether the standards they apply endanger our free and open society and its culture of freedom of expression.

At the center of the hearing was a claim by conservative Vloggers, Diamond and Silk, that they were being targetted and censored by Facebook which has led to a reduction in their Facebook traffic/engagement.  The reality, however, is that Diamond and Silk, are merely the victims of changes in the Facebook algorithm that has hurt both liberal and conservative voices.

New York Law School Professor Ari Ezra Waldman explained that Facebook redesigned its News Feed algorithm

in response to the manipulation of the platform by fake news sources [to] prioritize posts from our friends rather than from media or business pages.  The result is that lots of content gets filtered out, but no more so from the right than from the left.

Ranking Minority Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) believed the hearing was a fraud.

 “Social Media Filtering Practices and Their Effect on Free Speech” is a fine topic for discussion—and one I would encourage you to schedule—but that isn’t what today’s hearing is about, and the Majority knows it.  “The notion that social media companies are filtering out conservative voices is a hoax—a tired narrative of imagined victimhood as the rest of the country grapples with a feckless President and an out-of-control Administration.

The hearing seemed to take its cue from a line of questioning by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) during the recent Facebook hearings:

It’s just a simple question. The predicate for Section 230 immunity under the CDA is that you’re a neutral public forum. Do you consider yourself a neutral public forum, or are you engaged in political speech, which is your right under the First Amendment?

As Berin Szóka, the conservative President of Tech Freedom explained, Senator Cruz was

dead wrong about how Section 230 works, and more important, about the wisdom of requiring such neutrality. The idea that government should police the “neutrality” of websites is, in effect, a Fairness Doctrine for the Internet. It is ironic that such a proposal should come from any Republican, especially one so proudly “conservative” as Cruz, given the intensity of opposition by Republicans to the Fairness Doctrine for generations for stifling conservative voices on radio and television.

Things quickly became ridiculous when the vlogging duo, ignored the fact that they were testifying under oath and tried to deny that they were paid by the Trump campaign, despite Federal Elections Commission filings showing the payment.

Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) summed up the hearing in one statement.

This is a stupid and ridiculous hearing. The only reason I’m still here is because I want to enter some facts into the record to at least try to salvage some of this hearing

Lieu proceeded to ask Tech Freedom’s Szóka

Lieu: “Let’s say they want to write an algorithm that promotes cats. Can the government stop them from doing that?”

Szóka: “Thankfully not.”

Lieu: “And let’s say Facebook figures out, you know, promoting cats gets a lot more people to sign onto Facebook than promoting Diamond and Silk. Can the government intervene and stop Facebook from doing that?”

Szóka: ”No.”

Exactly.