The first full-blown House Oversight Committee hearing of the new GOP majority focused on Hunter Biden, and the role Twitter played in suppressing a bombshell New York Post story about the contents of a laptop allegedly owned by the president’s son.
Weeks before the presidential election, Twitter restricted the Post account in an attempt to prevent the spread of the article, declaring it potentially “harmful material” and in violation of a hacked content policy. After an outcry, particularly on the right, the accounts were restored and Twitter executives later acknowledged the company’s actions was wrong.
The premise of Wednesday’s hearing was that Twitter cooperated with the FBI to suppress the story and tip the scales for Joe Biden in the presidential election.
Former Twitter executives, however, said they were not involved in a conspiracy to sideline the story.
“I’m not aware of any illegal collusion or direction with any government agency or political campaign about how Twitter should have handled the Hunter Biden laptop situation,” said James Baker, Twitter’s former deputy general counsel who previously served as the FBI’s general counsel. .
Baker also defended new Twitter owner Elon Musk’s revelations about his work from the “Twitter Files” release, advising Twitter officials to use “caution” as they consider what to do about tweets about the Hunter Biden laptop story. “Hardly surprising advice from a corporate lawyer,” Baker said.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), however, claimed that Twitter had been “played” by the FBI over concerns about Russian interference in the 2020 election. He pressed Twitter officials on how many employees had security clearances, but they could not answer.
“The company has made a decision that it has found to be in violation [the hacked materials] policy,” said Yoel Roth, former head of global trust and security. “It wasn’t my personal decision at the time, but the decision was communicated to me by my direct supervisor. In the end I didn’t disagree enough to object to it.”
But Jordan claimed Twitter officials were meeting regularly with FBI officials, saying, “I think you wanted to take it down. He pointed to an email request from an FBI agent who suggested that Twitter officials look at specific posts for terms of service violations. That request, Jordan said, raises the question of whether it violates the First Amendment.
“Do I think that’s a valuable use of the FBI’s time? no But I don’t see any problem with the review request under the First Amendment,” Roth said.
Democrats, meanwhile, pointed to an instance where then-President Donald Trump wanted to get Twitter to take down a Chrissy Teigen tweet about him. According to Annika Collier Navaroli, a whistleblower and former Twitter employee, the White House then contacted Twitter to request that the tweet be taken down.
“I thought that was an inappropriate action by a public official, let alone the White House,” Rep. Gerry Conley (D-Va.) quipped during the hearing. “But it wasn’t Joe Biden about his son’s laptop. It was Donald Trump because he didn’t like what Chrissy Teigen said about him. The tweet was not taken down. Navarroli said it was a “slippery slope” for a president to pressure a social media company to take down content.
Media outlets have since confirmed that the laptop dropped off at a repair shop in 2019 was genuine. Hunter Biden’s attorneys recently called on state and federal authorities to investigate the dissemination of information from computers.
It’s been nearly five years since Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was called before Congress in a marathon Senate hearing, setting the stage for what’s to come: Republicans alleging the tech giant was biased in policing social media, and Democrats alleging Silicon Valley wasn’t cracking down on inflammatory content. Doing enough to do.
Not too surprisingly, not much has been done to rein in the platform’s power. There was bipartisan support for a set of strong antitrust bills targeting tech giants, but they failed to make it to the floor in the last Congress. Jordan has been one of the most vocal congressional critics of social media platforms, yet he opposed the antitrust bills, arguing they were a power grab by government agencies. He co-sponsored the bills as the top Republican on the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee, Rep. Replaced Ken Buck (R-CO). Instead, Representative Thomas Massey (R-KY), who opposes government intervention.
Politicians from both parties have also talked about reforming or eliminating Section 230, a provision of a 1996 law that shields platforms from liability for controlling third-party content. But those efforts went nowhere.
What is left when talking about social media? Hearings are a common and very subtle way of trying to pressure a tech giant or any private company. In the case of Twitter, however, executives who testified that the company’s new owner Elon Musk released a trove of internal emails and other documents from the previous administration no longer work there.
Former Twitter executives have suggested that the decision to block the Hunter Biden laptop story was a case of overcorrection after years of prior hearings into Russian influence on social media before the 2016 presidential election.
Baker said he believes “the best reading of the law is that as a private entity, the First Amendment protects Twitter in its decisions to moderate its content. I don’t believe the facts in the public record indicate that Twitter has become a state actor because that concept exists.” defined accordingly, as the First Amendment would limit it.”
The Oversight Committee hearing was slightly delayed due to a power outage, which sent the hearing room into darkness.