DOJ, State AGs Ramp Up Attacks on Private Social Media Platforms

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Jeff Sessions. Photo by USDHS.

On September 5th BigTech’s Facebook and Twitter appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee facing the same committee they did almost a year ago, the Washington Post reported.

“Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey told lawmakers on Wednesday that they are better prepared to combat foreign interference on their platforms, even as Democrats and Republicans alike expressed doubts that the social media giants had fully cleaned them up ahead of the midterm elections.”

Later in the afternoon Jack Dorsey appeared in another hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee as Republicans alleged “Twitter unfairly targets conservative-leaning posts and accounts,” echoing the same allegations President Trump made last Tuesday when he targeted Google and “Fake News Media,”

As TNB reported last month, after President Trump, confusing “Trump” and “Trump News” in the on-line blog site PJ Media who urged their readers to participate in an unscientific “test” in their article titled 96 Percent of Google Search Results for ‘Trump’ News Are from Liberal Media Outlets,” he then laid out the idea that “They are controlling what we can & cannot see. This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!” in his on-going unfounded accusations that the private social media platforms are suppressing conservative posts, an idea put forth by the conspiracy theory actor Alex Jones, who claims the president listens to his show and that he and the president speak. Jones was banned last month from YouTube, who is owned by Google, Facebook, Apple and Spotify. Twitter, TNB reported, permanently shut down his accounts last week for policy violations for abusive behaviors.

At the conclusion of Wednesday’s hearings, the Washington Post reported, Attorney General Jeff Sessions “warned … that leading technology companies may be “intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas” and hurting competition, an ominous development for an industry already under fire from Capitol Hill, President Trump and a range of conservative critics.”

The two-sentence statement, which didn’t elaborate on the allegation or explicitly threaten legal action, echoed tweets by Trump last week claiming that the technology industry was biased against conservatives. The White House later threatened new regulation of the search giant Google, which legal experts said would violate constitutional protections on free speech.

Washington Post September 5, 2018

According to TechCrunch the Justice Department has confirmed the rumors that Sessions was planning a meetings with “a number” of states attorneys general over his “growing concern” that “social media giants may be ‘hurting competition’ and ‘intentionally stifling’ free speech.”

“The Attorney General has convened a meeting with a number of state attorneys general this month to discuss a growing concern that these companies may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms,” said Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley in an email.”

This confirmation, along with his statement at the conclusion of the hearings has sent alarm throughout the tech industry as the statement further noted that the “government lawyers had been listening to the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing ‘closely,’ though issues of bias played a relatively small role in the hearing,” though it was more of a focus at the later hearing with the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the Washington Post further added.

USA Today reported shares in Twitter fell 6 percent, while Facebook fell 2 percent after Dorsey appeared before the Senate hearing and stating “there would have to be “massive shifts” in how Twitter and other social media companies operate.”

At this time the meeting is tentatively scheduled for September 25th, but officials would not specify exactly what they would discuss or what states would be included.

However, representatives from attorneys general from key tech states like California and New York confirmed they have not been “invited,” nor has the “Democratic Attorneys General Association,” according to their communication spokeswoman Lizze Ulmer, who said they “had not heard any Democratic attorneys general [are] invited” as of that Friday morning, according to a Washington Post report on September 7.

Xavier Beccera, California’s Attorney General, NPR reported, confirmed he had not been invited “and raised concern about his potential exclusion in a letter to the DOJ.”

“If the proposed gathering is meant to be a legitimate examination of the role of technology companies in social media, then states like California, the nation’s tech leader and home to a $385 billion tech industry, will be invited,” Sarah Lovenheim, adviser to Becerra, said in a statement to NPR. “If it’s a political meeting, then that speaks for itself.”

NPR September 11, 2018

The meeting, NPR reports, had only been discussed “among a small group” before it was officially ‘announced’ last week according to a Justice Department official, but since then “the interest has been overwhelming,” and that “no official invitations have been sent out by the agency” that is was still “in the early stages of planning,” according to the DOJ official.

Texas’ Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office confirmed he plans to attend, though it is unknown if he was “officially” invited or not. His spokesman Marc Rylander released a statement.

“We look forward to participating in the DOJ’s upcoming discussion regarding growing concerns that conservative voices are being suppressed on several social media platforms. This matter involves both the central tenets of our country’s free market economy and the guaranteed freedom of speech. We must work together to ensure that online economic competition operates fairly and transparently, so that Americans across the political spectrum can make informed choices and the public discourse can flourish.”

NPR

A Side Note (Opinion)

Axios put it best speaking about Trump’s rant on Google last week: “Be smart: Trump has been whacking social media, on social media, to shift next week’s hearings to how he’s a victim of social media.”

Which played right into the top cop of the land to set the stage to use political means to possibly assert his powers – in a means to appease a person who holds him in utter contempt – in what would actually be a direct violation of the First Amendment.

But then again, this should be a big wakeup call and warning sign for private businesses, big and small, who decide to get into bed with bigGovernment in slick backdoor moves for government-commerce collusion who look for favorable legislation and regulations that gives them an unfair competitive edge. The phrase, be careful what you wish for, you just may get comes to mind.

Undermine competition. Indeed. Government-Commerce collusion is the epitome of undermining competitor’s competition. Lay down with dogs don’t cry foul when you get their fleas, Google, Twitter, Facebook. It’s just too bad the rest of us out here have to suffer while these people do their damnedest to drag us down with them in their own bitter ignorance.

Sort of like the story about the banks, the bigs, credit unions, and local community banks all banded together and danced jigs when Rs took one-party rule control. They got Rs, and a few moderate Ds to horse trade their votes, to roll-back major parts of Dodd-Frank. Now that they’ve gotten what they wished for, they’re at each other’s throats again, just like they were before the 2008 crash. Not sure what the problem is, they got what the wished for. Now they’re going to try to garner other laws and or regulations to stifle each other and any competition they might now pose.

Appears no one is learning any lessons. And the beatings shall continue until morale improves.

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