Following Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's testimony to House and Senate committees this week, National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) renewed its call for congressional hearings focused on the growing problem of viewpoint censorship on Big Tech platforms.
"I am grateful a number of senators and representatives used their limited time at this week's hearings to press Mr. Zuckerberg on clear examples of viewpoint censorship," said Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, president and CEO of NRB. "Why does religious and conservative content seem to fall in the cross-hairs? Is it algorithmic or human discrimination? What is being done to correct this problem in either case? We need more answers, and we need more hearings with all the big players."
NRB had suggested five questions that members of Congress might ask Zuckerberg and was pleased to see the spirit of each raised by a number of concerned lawmakers. A non-exhaustive list of examples is below:
- Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D.: "The line between legitimate political discourse and hate speech can sometimes be hard to identify. ... Can you discuss what steps that Facebook currently takes when making these evaluations ... and any examples of where you may draw the line between what is and what is not hate speech?"
- Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas: "Do you consider yourself a neutral public forum? ... I will say there are a great many Americans who I think are deeply concerned that Facebook and other tech companies are engaged in a pervasive pattern of bias and political censorship."
- Senator Ben Sasse, R-Neb.: "Facebook may decide it needs to police a whole bunch of speech that I think America might be better off not having policed by one company that has a really big and powerful platform. Can you define hate speech?"
- House Communications & Technology Subcommittee Chairman Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.: "Do you subjectively manipulate your algorithms to prioritize or censor speech?"
- House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La.: "After this new algorithm was implemented ... there was a tremendous bias against conservative news and content. ... Who develops the algorithm? Was there a directive to put a bias in?"
- House Republican Conference Chairman Catherine McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.: "There's a number of high-profile examples of edge providers engaging in blocking and censoring religious and conservative political content. In November, FCC Chairman Pai even said that edge providers routinely block or discriminate against content they don't like. This is obviously a serious allegation. How would you respond to such an allegation? And what is Facebook doing to ensure that its users are being treated fairly and objectively by content reviewers?"
- Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C.: "Why not have a community standard for free speech and free exercise of religion that is simply a mirror of the First Amendment, with algorithms that ... have a viewpoint that is neutral?"
Particularly notable was that in his testimony, Zuckerberg stated a number of times his desire for freedom for a broad range of expression on Facebook. For example, in reply to Cruz, he said, "I am very committed to making sure that Facebook is a platform for all ideas. That is a—a very important founding principle of—of what we do. We're proud of the discourse and the different ideas that people can share on the service, and that is something that, as long as I'm running the company, I'm going to be committed to making sure is the case."
NRB has tracked instances of censorship of Christian and conservative viewpoints on the internet with a timeline, starting in 2010 when Apple removed Chuck Colson's Manhattan Declaration from its iTunes App Store. For more, see the IFW timeline, "Viewpoint Censorship on the Internet." At a December news conference at the National Press Club, NRB launched Internet Freedom Watch (InternetFreedomWatch.org) to draw attention to the censorship of Christian and conservative speech by companies such as Facebook, Google, Twitter and Apple. NRB sent letters to those tech giants urging constructive conversation and a resolution to this swelling problem. The letter to Facebook is available here. So far, neither Zuckerberg nor his colleagues have formally responded. NRB also called on Congress to hold hearings on online viewpoint censorship.
NRB president Johnson added, "Mr. Zuckerberg is to be commended for voluntarily coming before the representatives of the American people. It's time for all the Big Tech leaders to discuss viewpoint censorship with Congress and to publicly make clear how committed they truly are to consumers' otherwise lawful free speech."
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