Is social media censorship a problem? Heated House hearing clash divides Democrats, GOP
WASHINGTON – A fiery House hearing Thursday sounded like a Monty Python skit. Republicans claimed censorship of social media posts – even though the government doesn’t control the companies. Democrats sought to strike the testimony from two witnesses entirely.
The fireworks erupted at the hearing of the Judiciary subcommittee named “weaponization of the federal government.” The episode illustrated growing partisan tensions as House Republicans pursue widespread investigations of the Democratic Biden administration.
The hearing was about a lawsuit Missouri and Louisiana filed accusing the White House and FBI of pressuring Facebook and Twitter to suppress posts about the origins of COVID-19 and the efficacy of lockdowns and wearing masks.
Republicans argued the pressure amounted to censorship. But a constitutional scholar from Stanford, Matthew Seligman, reminded lawmakers only the government can censor information and the private companies made their own decisions about what to publish.
“Once again it bears repeating: the First Amendment applies to governmental restrictions of speech, not private conduct,” said Seligman, who added that the lawsuit does a disservice to claims of free speech. “This is not idle political theater.”
The two attorneys general who filed the case left the hearing after giving their statements without answering questions, which outraged Democrats.
Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Mo., who was state attorney general when the lawsuit was filed, said the Biden administration “coerced, cajoled and colluded with social media companies to censor disfavored speech.” He said the companies “willingly took part in this Orwellian, vast censorship enterprise.”
Louisiana Attorney General Jeffrey Landry argued collusion between federal agencies and social media companies resulted in American citizens, scientists and journalists being banned, silenced and removed from platforms “for their valid concern about lockdowns, masks, vaccines and more.”
“This censorship enterprise knows no bounds,” Landry said.
Landry and Schmitt left after his testimony. Lawmakers shouted past each other a bit.
Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., called parts of their statements “false” and wanted to question them. He forced a vote to adjourn the meeting, which failed. So he proposed to strike the testimony, to no avail.
“They have scurried away with your complicity,” Lynch told the chairman, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. “That’s pretty disgraceful.”
Jordan said elected officials are routinely allowed to leave hearings after giving statements.
“They have not scurried away,” Jordan said.
Republicans said Lynch’s argument to strike the testimony sounded familiar.
“You mean you want to censor it?" asked Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La. “Thank you all for illustrating our point."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: GOP, Dems clash at fiery House hearing over social media censorship