Congressional lawmakers on Wednesday partnered in an attempt to hold the heads of the nation’s most powerful tech companies accountable for a wide range of questionable activities.
Democrats questioning whether the companies violated U.S. antitrust laws and stole from competitors, while Republicans slammed them over alleged censorship and bias against conservatives.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Sundar Pichai of Google and Apple’s Tim Cook testified before the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee, each purporting to face “heavy” competition from not only from one another, but other large companies inside and outside the country as well.
In his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chairman Democrat David Cicilline said the committee had spoken to more than 100 sources with 100s of hours talking to them about the behaviors of the marketplace, noting it’s “the most bipartisan issue” in some time on Capitol Hill.
“Our founders did not bow before a king and we should now bow before the emperors of the online economy,” Cicilline said.
Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, came out swinging, noting “big tech is out to get conservatives.” Jordan cited several examples of alleged bias against Facebook, Google and Amazon, as well as Twitter, which was not involved in the hearing.
Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner asked Zuckerberg about censoring ideas, specifically from conservative viewpoints, including referencing Donald Trump Jr.’s temporary ban on Twitter for posting a video that claimed antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine is a cure for COVID-19, a virus for which there is no known cure.
“Frankly, I think we’ve distinguished ourselves as one that defends freedom of expression the most,” Zuckerberg replied, adding Facebook bans categories of harm such as terrorist propaganda, child exploitation, intellectual privacy violations and things like hate speech.
Later in the hearing, Jordan pressed Google’s Pichai to promise that the company would not censor conservative voices on its search engine and would refrain from helping the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden win November’s election.
Jordan claimed Google employees worked to help Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016 when she was the nominee. “You did it in 2016,” Jordan said. “I just want to make sure you’re not going to do it in 2020.”
Pichai argued that the tech giant complied with all federal laws in 2016 and will continue to do so.
“We engage with campaigns according to law and approach our work in a nonpartisan way,” he claimed. “Any work we do around the elections is nonpartisan.”
President Trump weighed in on the matter, tweeting a promise to take action to stop these big tech companies censorship practices he would take action against the big tech companies if Congress did not do so.
Cicilline has called the four companies monopolies. In 2019, he called on the FTC to investigate Facebook. “Given all that we’ve learned recently about Facebook’s predatory behavior, it’s clear that serious enforcement is long overdue,” he said in a statement.
Most Americans have said social media companies had too much power and influence in politics, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center.
According to research conducted between June 16 and June 22, 72 percent of U.S. adults surveyed said social media firms wield too much power and influence. “Majorities of both Republicans and Democrats believe social media companies wield too much power, but Republicans are particularly likely to express this view,” the Pew Research Center said in a statement.