WASHINGTON — Conservative social media stars Lynette “Diamond” Hardaway and Rochelle “Silk” Richardson accused Facebook of using algorithms to suppress conservative viewpoints Thursday at a House Judiciary Committee hearing. Democrats fired back that the GOP-controlled meeting was intended to promote right-wing conspiracy theories.
House Republicans focused their questions on whether social media platforms censor conservative voices, and if Congress should take any measures to protect free speech online. Facebook, Twitter and Google declined to appear at the hearing.
“The First Amendment offers no clear protections for users when Facebook, Google or Twitter limits their content in any way,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., testified that Twitter banned her campaign ad last year in which she said, “I fought Planned Parenthood and we stopped the sale of baby body parts.” Twitter later reinstated the ad, but would not permit the campaign to pay to promote it on the platform because of a controversial anti-abortion rights statement included in the clip.
But House Democrats were skeptical of the intent of the hearing. Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said, “Time and again, House Republicans have attempted to turn the committee away from [Russian election hacking, Cambridge Analytica scandal and other] issues, either ignoring or hoping to distract from the serious conversations we should be having.”
Rep. Jim Hines, D-Conn., testified that the hearing was held to “promote a false narrative” that Facebook and other social media sites have a “deliberate crusade to filter out conservatives.”
Nadler called the testimony by Hardaway and Richardson as “spectacle.”
“Subtle and slowly Facebook used one mechanism at a time to diminish reach by restricting our page so that our 1.2 million followers would not see our content thus silencing our conservative voices,” Hardaway told the committee. According to Facebook, their page currently has about 1.6 million followers.
Ari Waldman, the director of the Innovation Center for Law and Technology at New York University, said Facebook’s algorithm results in a lot of content getting filtered out of users’ feeds, but no more so from the right than from the left.”
Nadler asked experts if they were aware of any evidence of Facebook suppressing conservative users’ content. All but Diamond and Silk said no.
Earlier this year, Facebook announced its algorithm would become more focused on displaying content from users’ friends and family. This week they released a 27-page manual on how they monitor content and why.