Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) grilled representatives from Twitter at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting for suspending the account of pro-life movie, Unplanned, while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) slammed the social media giant’s top executive for censoring conservatives.
The Republican senator from Missouri challenged Twitter’s problematic “hate speech” policies silencing Christians and conservatives that ultimately led to its suspension of Unplanned, the no. 4 box office hit that unearths the brutal truth about abortion – particularly Planned Parenthood’s scandalous treatment of preborn children.
“Mr. Mohje, first of all let me say I enjoyed your testimony about Mother Teresa and why she was or was not engaging in hate speech, [but] I found your inability to answer that question absolutely hilarious and really indicative of the lack of transparency that your company is engaging in,” Hawley lit into the Twitter representative in the meeting on Capitol Hill, according to Breitbart News. “So, let me just ask you a few more pointed questions – your account for the movie Unplanned, why was that suspended?”
Twitter Director of Public Policy and Philanthropy Carlos Mohje, Jr., answered Hawley by insisting that his company righted its past wrong.
“Thank you for that question sir, I’ll note that Mother Teresa quote is currently on Twitter,” Mohje insisted.
Silencing the argument against abortion … again
When Hawley proceeded to question the Mohje about whether he would classify the Catholic pro-life icon’s quote as hate speech, the Twitter representative evaded giving an answer by inquiring about the GOP senator’s question concerning Unplanned – bringing up the suspension of the movie’s Twitter account.
“What we discovered – we have a system which tries to stop individuals who have broken rules in the past from coming back on [the platform],” Mohje told Hawley. “The individual who started the Unplanned account had previously been suspended for violating our rules – and as a result – our automated systems flagged that account, and it was taken down for an hour.”
The controversy over censorship of the pro-life movie unfolded late last month.
“Unplanned – a Pure Flix movie critical of abortion and of Planned Parenthood – opened March 29, and the next morning, Twitter suspended the movie’s account because it was linked to an account that had violated rules,” The Hollywood Reported informed. “After users tweeted their displeasure to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, the decision was reversed, and the account was reinstated about an hour after it had been suspended.”
The pro-life senator followed up his questioning by asking Mohje about conservative columnist Jesse Kelly, who was banned from the popular social media platform – to which the Twitter rep. gave another explanation.
“We have been in contact with him about what he did, and he understands the rules that he’s broken,” Mohje insisted, according to Breitbart. “This is a challenge of a platform as broad as Twitter, where people are doing things that are not always visible to the public, and we can’t comment because of his privacy and security, but it was a significant violation – and one that we stand by.”
Not satisfied with the rationalization provided by Twitter, Hawley pressed further.
“Hawley then asked if it was algorithms deciding when people are de-platformed from Twitter – and when – to which Mohje, Jr., stated that the company uses a combination of machine learning and human moderation,” Breitbart’s Lucas Nolan recounted. “Hawley pointedly asked if Twitter would make the guidelines under which human reviewers judge what content is objectionable [to the] public, [however], Mohje Jr. attempted to steer the conversation towards the broader discussion of transparency, but was held to task by Hawley on the publication of the moderator guidelines.”
Hawley wanted Twitter to prove its pledge – to be transparent -- true by seeing if Mohje would reveal its censorship protocol that appears to silence conservative speech … while promoting left-leaning subject matter.
“You said earlier that you are a pro-transparency company – that you want to embrace transparency – so you have your chance now,” Hawley impressed. “Tell us you’ll make the protocols public … Will you make them public?”
The representative of the social media giant then insisted that the decision on divulging moderator guidelines was not in his control, but Hawley proceeded by inquiring whether he would personally support a push to make the protocols public, but Mohje passed the ball on that question, as well.
“[O]ur team will get back to you sir,” Mohje promised.
Hawley would not relent in his line of questioning.
"You say now, you've admitted that there is human involvement in these decisions – that there are, in fact, numerous people involved, there are protocols, but you won't make them public, is that right?" Hawley pressed.
The Twitter director then got a bit testy.
"I told you why @UnplannedMovie was banned – was taken down for an hour," Mohje retorted, according to Fox News. "And I've told you why [conservative writer and radio host] Jesse Kelly was kicked off the platform, and if you want more details, you can ask him."
Still not satisfied, Hawley recapped Mohje’s unwillingness to cooperate – in accordance with his corporation’s so-called transparency protocol.
“Hawley then asked Mohje if Twitter would commit to a ‘third-party audit’ of ‘potential bias’ on the platform – a question Monje declined to answer,” Fox News pointed out.
The conservative senator went on to recap Twitter’s refusal to abide by its own standards.
"This committee hearing again today shows that you’re anything but transparent, and you apparently have no interest in becoming transparent," Hawley stressed. "This is a huge, huge problem, and I would hope for the sake of the customers you serve and the values you purport to represent, that you would change your behavior and to change your commitments to providing a neutral, unbiased platform for all users in this country."
Cruz later chimed in on the issue, giving his response to Twitter’s actions against the pro-life film.
“[When it comes to Unplanned], the ridicule of the mainstream media and Hollywood is to be expected," Cruz told The Hollywood Reporter. "But big tech's attempted censorship of (Johnson's) story during it's opening weekend is deeply troubling and revealing. I have repeatedly asked tech companies for basic data on how many voices on their social platforms are silenced and to what extent it is politically targeted. I intend to keep asking these questions and hold them accountable."
Cruz tag-teaming against Twitter
Before Hawley lit into Twitter for trying to silence pro-life speech, Cruz opened up the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing of the panel’s subcommittee on the Constitution Wednesday by accusing a top Twitter executive of deliberately censoring and shadow-banning conservative users.
"[A] great many people agree that the pattern – the anti-conservative bias and the pattern of censorship we're seeing from big tech – is disturbing,” Cruz asserted, according to Fox News. “The question of remedy is a more complicated one. ... It's a thorny legal question. It's a thorny policy question."
He pressed further about the trend of dominating and powerful left-leaning social media platforms inflicting their political bias on users by weeding out speech they do not endorse or agree with.
"By almost any measure, the giant tech companies today are larger and more powerful than Standard Oil was when it was broken up [in 1911],” the Texas senator continued. “They are larger and more powerful than AT&T when it was broken up [in 1982], and if we have tech companies using the power of monopoly to sanction political speech, I think that raises real antitrust issues."
The brunt of Cruz’s initial questioning – and that of his colleagues – fell on Mohje, who sat on a panel with Facebook Public Policy Director Neil Potts.
The past transgressions of Twitter were discussed with other pro-life senators during the meeting.
”In his testimony, Monje apologized to Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), for Twitter's decision in October 2017 to block one of her campaign ads, in which she claimed to have ‘stopped the sale of baby body parts’ by Planned Parenthood,” Fox News’ Samuel Chamberlain noted.
The apology, however, was given with a rationalization.
"We made the wrong call," Mohje admitted to Blackburn, according to Fox. "We develop policies governing advertisements that run on Twitter that try to balance – allowing our advertisers to promote messages with protecting individuals who did not ask to see that ad. I am sorry."
Cruz directed the discussion to Twitter’s shadow-banning – its restriction of conservative personalities’ visibility in search results, but Mohje refused to admit his company implemented such a practice … before conceding that Twitter has employed the practice of burying certain users’ posts.
“[Twitter would] downgrade [users’ posts’] if we have signals that indicate that a person is being spammy – meaning they are using multiple accounts to do the same thing – if they are using automated activity, but we’re not 100-percent sure that they’re breaking our rules,” Mohje explained. “If they’ve been abusive, then what we will do is make it harder for that content to be found."
This spurred another question from the former Republican presidential candidate.
"When you downgrade a tweet, do you notify the person that you've downgraded?" Cruz questioned.
The Twitter official would not provide a direct answer.
"I'd have to get back to you on that, sir," Mohje insisted.
Cruz took the silence as confirmation that Twitter assumes no obligation to inform users about its questionable censorship.
"Okay, I believe the answer is no, and if the answer is no, that – as far as I can tell – is indistinguishable from shadow-banning," Cruz shot back.
In defense, Monje then tried to shine Twitter in a more positive light.
“[Followers of downgraded users could still] find what that person tweeted,” Mohje assured Cruz.
The conservative Texan then clarified his point.
"But if it's downgraded so far fewer people see it, that is exactly what is being alleged on shadow-banning," Cruz impressed.
Google’s suppression of conservative speech is slated to be addressed in the near future.
“A representative from Google was also scheduled to appear at the hearing, but the committee rejected the company's proposal to send its head of conservative outreach, Max Pappas – a former Cruz staffer.” Chamberlain noted. “Cruz announced that he would hold a separate hearing focused solely on Google at a later date.”