The House Oversight Committee is fighting Twitter censorship the wrong way

The House Oversight Committee held a hearing on Wednesday aimed at “protecting speech from government interference and social media bias.” Given the disturbing and unprecedented steps taken by federal agencies like the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control to limit free expression on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites, this would seem like a legitimate topic for government oversight.

Unfortunately, the approach taken by the Republican House majority — hauling tech executives before Congress and attacking them for succumbing to government pressure — is both counter to the goal of protecting free speech online, as well as a prime example of Republican members of Congress doing exactly what they claim to oppose. The Republican Party can hardly reproach private company content moderators for being respectful of government authority while demanding similar respect from Congress.

Meanwhile, Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–NY) have shown that they still fail to understand why Twitter is being restricted. The New York PostHunter Biden’s laptop story was catastrophically wrong—and they’ll push social media companies for more content restrictions in the dubious name of fighting alleged misinformation. When it was his turn to speak, the AOC launched into a rambling rant about the propriety of the hearing and even wrongly suggested that there was a persuasive factual basis to doubt the authenticity of the laptop. He said the laptop story was an example of right-wing political operatives injecting “explosive confusion” into the discourse.

“[They] couldn’t get out of it, and now they’re excited, and they want the ability to do it again,” he said.

This is completely wrong. The laptop itself is not disinformation; The fact that right-wing political actors thought its content would be helpful to their cause does not justify a campaign by the mainstream media, the intelligence community and social media platforms to suppress the story. whether The New York Post The story undermined Joe Biden’s case for the presidency by leaving a question best left to actual voters, but powerful elite interests prevented them from weighing that information.

In his opening remarks, committee chair Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), rightly pointed out that the decision to restrict the Hunter Biden laptop story was a huge mistake, and Twitter itself was not.

“America has witnessed a concerted campaign by social media companies, mainstream news and the intelligence community to suppress and delegitimize the existence of Hunter Biden’s laptop and its contents,” Comer said. “That morning Twitter and other social media companies took extraordinary steps to suppress that story.”

The Twitter files, a series of internal email releases ordered by new CEO Elon Musk and conducted by independent journalists Matt Taibbi, Barry Weiss, Michael Shellenberger and others, show that content control decisions are not made in a vacuum: a complex web of federal bureaucracies to censor certain types of content. Platforms have been pushed hard This practice, known as “jaw-posting,” isn’t just happening on Twitter; Facebook Files, an investigative report by becauseShows that CDC staff have maintained a constant dialogue with Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, and have often weighed in on whether COVID-19 claims should be suppressed on social media platforms.

Wednesday’s hearing featured three former high-ranking content moderators at Twitter: Vijaya Gadde, Yoel Roth and Jim Baker. All had a hand in the infamous decision to block the Hunter Biden laptop story; All later admitted that this was a profound mistake.

Congress could continue to investigate exactly what was going through the heads of Twitter employees as they doubled down on restricting the laptop story, or they could direct their intentions to the government itself. Subsequent revelations from the Twitter files proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the platform’s bad decisions were largely motivated by Jaws: The FBI, CDC, White House and other arms of the federal government regularly flagged content that supposedly violated various misinformation policies. These requests for moderation were often inappropriate and frequently misguided—federal activists characterized innocent jokes as violations of election integrity and mischaracterized legitimate political speech as Russian bot activity—but media pressure and the obvious threat of increased regulation led the platforms to eventually comply.

that The real scam. If Congress wants to protect speech from government interference, it should subpoena representatives of the FBI, CDC and other agencies to these hearings.