Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Today’s U.S. Senate Hearing Was a Waste of Everyone’s Time

Gilad Edelman, Wired:

As with many congressional hearings, the point of this one wasn’t really to get answers, but sound bites. No one was readier to add to their sizzle reel than Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who has done as much as anyone to promote anti-conservative bias as a political issue worthy of debate in Washington. Cruz, appearing remotely, lit into Dorsey for what he considers Twitter’s “egregious” conduct. “Mr. Dorsey,” he snarled, “who the hell elected you and put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report and what the American people are allowed to hear, and why do you persist in behaving as a Democratic Super PAC silencing views to the contrary of your political beliefs?”

The most notable thing about Cruz’s broadside was not its vituperative tone but the fact that it was directed at Dorsey and not the other two CEOs called to testify, Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai. Indeed, over the course of the hearing, Dorsey fielded more questions from Republicans than those two combined, according to a New York Times tally. And yet Facebook and Google are far more embedded in American life, and play a far greater gatekeeping role, than Twitter could ever dream of. Around 70 percent of American adults use Facebook and YouTube regularly, and Google accounts for some 90 percent of the general search market. Given their dramatically larger user bases, Facebook and Google are far more significant drivers of traffic to media sites. Almost all of my WIRED stories get most of their traffic from one of the two — most often Google, whose monopoly on search makes it the first place readers go to look up a given topic. Banning my stuff from Twitter would be rough, but banning it from Google would be close to wiping it out of existence.

There is a good-faith discussion to be had about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, but this was not it. It did not come close. For a brief moment, there was some discussion of Section 230 itself; however, Edelman’s description above nails the tone and substance of today’s hearing: nasty and almost none. Republicans were furious that Twitter made it slightly more difficult to find a discredited tabloid story and, I guess, they believe they have the power to intervene. Or maybe they are just generally angry about technology and wanted an outlet.

Whatever the case, it amounted to hours of hand-wringing over profound misinterpretations of the Communications Decency Act, and complaints about the number of times the President’s lies were labelled misleading on Twitter — which they argue somehow amounts to censorship of, I repeat, the President, someone who it is impossible to ignore for more than a couple of days.

Again, all of these complaints were about Twitter, which is a fraction of the size and influence of Facebook, Google, Rupert Murdoch’s publishing and broadcast empire, or internet service providers. The latter have been using a lack of competition or regulation to exploit those working from home, but their CEOs aren’t testifying before Congress.

The award for honesty today went to Brian Schatz, who correctly stated that the hearing was a “sham” and “nonsense”, and refused to participate. It was otherwise a massive waste of everyone’s time, and Americans should demand better.