Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, ripped into Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey during a hearing with tech titans on Wednesday, accusing him and his social media platform of improperly censoring reporting that reflected poorly on Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, asking at point, “Who the hell elected you?”
The exchange comes as Republicans over the last several weeks have decried Twitter’s actions to lock the New York Post’s Twitter account, and censor links to the outlet’s stories, on Biden’s son, Hunter, and his overseas business dealings.
Dorsey said this was due to a policy regarding hacked materials, because the stories were based on emails from Hunter Biden’s purported laptop. Cruz noted that a New York Times article about President Trump’s tax returns did not face the same treatment, even though the materials appeared to be leaked illegally.
“Mr. Dorsey, who the hell elected you and put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report and what the American people are allowed to hear, and why do you persist in behaving as a Democratic super PAC silencing views to the contrary of your political beliefs?” Cruz asked.
Dorsey claimed that this was not the case. He also denied that Twitter has the ability to influence elections, a claim that Cruz derided as “absurd.”
“You’re testifying to this committee right now that Twitter, when it silences people, when it censors people, when it blocks political speech, that has no impact on elections?”
“People have choice of other communication channels,” Dorsey claimed.
“Not if they don’t hear information,” Cruz shot back. “If you don’t think you have the power to influence elections, why do you block anything?”
Dorsey claimed that his policies are “making sure more that voices on the platform are possible,” which is done by silencing abuse and harassment. He did admit that the policy under which the Post story was censored was flawed, and that other users should not have been blocked from sharing links to it. He claimed that individual users could now share the Post story, but soon after Cruz tweeted that this was still not the case.
The exchange came during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on what is known as Section 230 protections that keep social media platforms from being liable for statements made through their services. Dorsey appeared alongside Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
Later in the hearing, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., challenged Dorsey’s claim that Twitter does not influence elections with their policies or actions. He also challenged the company’s decision to censor the Post’s reporting, as well as Facebook’s decision to flag it.
“Do either one of you have any evidence that the New York Post story is part of Russian disinformation or that those emails aren’t authentic?” Johnson asked Dorsey and Zuckerberg.
“We don’t,” Dorsey said. He then reiterated that they believed it violated their hacking policy, only for Johnson to point out that the emails were not hacked.
Zuckerberg said that Facebook relied on the FBI’s intelligence and alerts that they provided that included a warning to be on the lookup for a leak and release of a trove of information. He acknowledged that the alert did not specifically say anything about information in the Post’s reporting.
Zuckerberg claimed that Facebook did not censor the story, but that they did flag it for fact-checking and held it back during that process.
Lawmakers looking to strip those protections claim that by selectively censoring posts due to their content — beyond typical terms of service prohibiting offensive or harassing statements — the tech companies are taking an active approach akin to a publisher instead of merely providing a platform where individual users post whatever statements they want.