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Facebook, Twitter, Alphabet to testify at U.S. House hearing

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The U.S. House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing to take testimony from Facebook Inc, Alphabet Inc's YouTube unit and Twitter Inc on whether social media companies are filtering content for political reasons, the committee chairman said, reported New Indian Express (India).

Conservative Republicans in Congress have criticized social media companies for what they claim are politically motivated practices in removing some content, a charge the companies have rejected.

House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte said in a statement on Friday that he was pleased the companies will send experts "to answer questions on their content moderation practices and how they can be better stewards of free speech in the United States and abroad."

Twitter declined to comment. Facebook on Friday confirmed they would participate but declined further comment. Alphabet did not immediately comment.

Facebook's head of global policy management Monika Bickert, Youtube global head of public policy and government relations Juniper Downs and Twitter's senior strategist Nick Pickles will testify, the committee said.

The committee held a hearing in April on the same topic after representatives of the companies skipped it.

Republicans repeatedly suggested at the hearing that the companies are censoring or blocking content from conservatives, a charge the companies rejected.

Lawmakers from both parties agreed tech companies must remove illegal content like fraud, piracy and sex trafficking but differed on whether they should remove objectionable content.

Goodlatte said "while these companies may have legal, economic, and ideological reasons to manage their content like a traditional media outlet, we must nevertheless weigh as a nation whether the standards they apply endanger our free and open society and its culture of freedom of expression."

Representative Jerrold Nadler, top Democrat on the committee, said in April "the notion that social media companies are filtering out conservative voices is a hoax, a tired narrative of imagined victimhood."

Nadler added "conservative commentary, including conspiracy theories of a conservative bent, regularly rank among the most far-reaching posts on Facebook and elsewhere."

Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom, said at the hearing that "concerns about Facebook’s potential slant are best addressed through other measures, starting with transparency and user empowerment. Ultimately, the best check on Facebook’s power today is the threat of a new Facebook disrupting the company’s dominance."

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg told Congress in April that he is "very committed to making sure that Facebook is a platform for all ideas."

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A study released by the Pew Research Center in late June has once again brought to the surface a key issue of the Obama-era Title II net neutrality regulations: America’s concern about big tech’s approach to privacy, censorship and political bias and how Obama ignored it, reported The Hill (US).

The study found that “seven-in-ten Americans think it likely that social media companies intentionally censor political views they find objectionable.”

The majority of us Americans agree that it is necessary for online platforms to regulate hate speech or intervene when users are engaging in harassing or threatening behavior. However, big tech companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter have taken this practice too far and have created their own definitions of hate speech, censoring political viewpoints that differ from the left-leaning ideologies of the companies’ leadership.

The Pew study found that 72 percent of the American public thinks it “likely that social media platforms actively censor political views that those companies find objectionable.” Well, unfortunately for consumers, it isn’t “likely” happening — it is happening.

In January, Project Veritas exposed Twitter for “shadow banning” conservative profiles, meaning the users were blocked from the platform without even being notified. Further, a shadow-banned user’s followers won’t even know they’ve been blocked, as they will still appear to exist, but won’t show up in search results or anywhere else on Twitter. “Although Twitter presents itself as politically neutral, its culture behind closed doors is one of blatant censorship, systematic bias, and political targeting,” said Project Veritas President James O’Keefe.

In June, Google listed “Nazism” as the ideology of the California Republican party, blaming “vandalism” at Wikipedia for the search results. Immediately after apologizing for the California issue, Google again found itself in hot water when a top search result for North Carolina Republican state senator yielded a photo labeling her a bigot.

The list goes on and on. Another list that seems endless is the stream of attacks on Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai and his family that continue to be published on Twitter to this day.

The deep pockets in Silicon Valley have focused their efforts to paint Pai in a negative light, claiming he killed the internet and so-called net neutrality. Unfortunately, those false claims stuck and users have taken to social media to support big tech’s sentiment toward Pai, even taking it to horrifying levels in posts that threaten his life and those of his family, yet still remain publicly posted on the platform.

Just last month, one user asked “Kim Jong Un, Russian spies, or any rich person whatsoever to kill Ajit Pai and take him to Hell.” Other users suggested Pai be hanged, forced to gurgle hot bleach, and develop cancer, among other things that are better left unsaid.

It is rich for Silicon Valley firms to assert that the aforementioned examples are not hate speech that should be removed from the internet, but Michigan state Senate candidate Aric Nesbitt’s campaign video that references his pro-life beliefs or Diamond and Silk’s pro-Trump vlogs are “unsafe to the community.”

This is not a hypothetical issue and it is not the least bit surprising that the majority of Republicans think major technology companies as a whole support the views of liberals over conservatives.

What’s more, these companies are growing increasingly negligent when it comes to privacy. For years, big tech has watched our every move online, selling our information to advertisers and political campaigns and have been held accountable to no one. To ensure that they are able to continue to operate unchecked, Silicon Valley is now lobbying Congress under the guise of so-called net neutrality to support a Congressional Review Act (CRA), which would effectively exempt Facebook and Google from any obligation to protect consumers online.

While net neutrality might be an abstract and complicated issue, privacy is not lost on the American people. A meager 24 percent of the public thinks tech companies “do enough to protect the personal data of users.”

It is clear that technology goliaths can no longer remain self-regulated entities. But unfortunately for consumers, the Senate, pushed by the deep pockets of Silicon Valley lobbyists, jammed through the harmful, politically-motivated CRA and sent it to the House.

Now, members of the House of Representatives must oppose this net neutrality CRA and, instead, work with the Senate to pass real consumer internet protection legislation.

It is high past time for Congress to hear the concerns of their constituents and step up to protect us against the dangers that could come from allowing these companies to continue blocking and censoring content.

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