Twitter this week suspended InfoWars host Alex Jones for seven days for what it said were violations of its policies, following Facebook, YouTube, Apple, and Spotify’s simultaneous banning last week.
It is not clear what prompted those platforms to suddenly take collective action, but it came about one week after Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, led a charge threatening new regulation of social media companies who cannot stop bad actors from using their platforms.
Two weeks ago, on July 30, a white paper authored by Warner’s staff was leaked to Axios, which blamed major social media firms for allowing Russians to interfere with the 2016 elections and outlined 20 proposals for regulating social media firms.
“Government has failed to adapt and has been incapable or unwilling to adequately address the impacts of these trends on privacy, competition, and public discourse. Armed with this knowledge, it is time to begin to address these issues and work to adapt our regulations and laws,” the white paper said.
Non-partisan tech experts called his proposals impractical. “The proposals in the paper are wide ranging and in some cases even politically impossible, and raise almost as many questions as they try to answer,” wrote Mathew Ingram, Columbia Journalism Review’s chief digital writer.
Others noted the proposal’s partisan bent: “Warner’s proposals skew toward Democratic concerns,” The Verge wrote. “With this document, Warner tries to suss out what the Democratic Party’s vision for the internet could be,” The Daily Dot said.
The next day, on July 31, Facebook announced it had removed 32 pages and accounts from Facebook and Instagram that allegedly showed connections to and activity consistent with Russian disinformation efforts.
Warner praised Facebook’s move in a statement and called for further action:
Today’s disclosure is further evidence that the Kremlin continues to exploit platforms like Facebook to sow division and spread disinformation, and I am glad that Facebook is taking some steps to pinpoint and address this activity. I also expect Facebook, along with other platform companies, will continue to identify Russian troll activity and to work with Congress on updating our laws to better protect our democracy in the future.
The next day, on August 1, Warner authored an op-ed in USA Today. He touted his role leading the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the election and criticized social media companies for being “unable or unwilling to predict, detect or stop the abuse of their platforms.”
Later that day, the Senate Intelligence Committee held a hearing on “Foreign Influence Operations and their use of Social Media Platforms.” One of the experts testifying was former Clinton campaign adviser Laura Rosenberger.
During the hearing, Warner — not the committee’s chairman — announced that top executives from Facebook, Google, and Twitter would testify before the committee the next month to discuss their efforts to prevent Russian meddling in November elections.
Five days later, on August 6, Facebook, YouTube, Apple, and Spotify banned Jones from their platforms, prompting some to wonder if they had cowed under pressure from Warner.
“Mark Warner appears to be the point man for Democratic politicians who intend to use Russiagate and ‘fake news’ hysteria to intimidate tech giants into submission. It appears to be working,” Michael Krieger, editor of Liberty Blitzkrieg, wrote on ZeroHedge.com.
WikiLeaks tweeted: “The suspiciously simultaneous censorship of Infowars by Google, Apple, Facebook came just one week after U.S. Senate intelligence committee hawk Mark Warner (D) circulated this policy paper threatening new regulation against those same media companies.”
Wall Street Journal technology columnist Andy Kessler characterized Warner’s white paper as a power play.
“Mr. Warner wants to show that techland has gotten too big for its breeches and that the center of power radiates from the Hill—not the Valley,” Kessler wrote on Monday. “Mr. Warner has flexed his congressional muscles and made a point. Now he can go away.”
Breitbart News reached out to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Apple, and Spotify to request comment about Warner’s white paper and whether it had any effect on their policies, but received no response.
The companies have some basis to fear Warner. He has been suggested as a potential Democratic presidential candidate.
Democrats floated his name in a CNBC article earlier this year, as the Democratic Party’s centrist wing casts about for alternatives to far-left progressives like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VA).
The article said Democratic donors are pushing him to run and there have been “private conversations” since the beginning of 2018. They said he has so far declined to commit to making a run.
Warner’s activism has not gone unappreciated by his supporters.
One of his constituents, David Kerr, a former member of the Stafford County School Board and columnist for InsideNova.com, wrote recently in a piece, “Warner has been in the news with his work on the Senate Intelligence Committee. He has been a relentless advocate for vigorously investigating the Administration’s relationship with the Russians.”
Warner would not be the first to use his perch on a powerful congressional intelligence committee to score political points for Democrats.
House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-CA) has also used his committee’s Russia investigation to fundraise and go on cable news to talk about the investigation.
The House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling and whether there was any Trump campaign collusion wound down earlier this year, but the Senate’s is continuing after more than a year of investigating.
September’s hearing with representatives of social media companies will be the Senate Intelligence Committee’s ninth on Russian disinformation, and the third one directly focused on social media since Trump took office.
Republican strategist Michael D. Caputo blasted Warner for using his position on the Senate Intelligence Committee and its investigation into Russian meddling for personal political gain.
“Sen. Warner is one of the several members in Congress who are trying to ride the Russia investigation to higher office,” Caputo said. “Schiff is still out there on MSNBC and CNN, so is [Rep. Eric] Swalwell (D-CA). You know, these guys have gotten a really good ride out of this.”
Caputo, who served on the Trump campaign for several months, has been one of several former campaign aides who have borne the brunt of Democrats’ accusations of collusion.
“For partisan Democrats like Sen. Warner, the Russia investigation is like that quarter-ride pony outside the grocery store. The House members — their pony stopped a while ago, but his keeps rocking. And he’s trying to ride it to higher office.”
Caputo also hit Warner’s staff for failing to stop leaks from its own security director James Wolfe, who was caught leaking a New York Times reporter, with whom he had a personal romantic relationship for several years. She reportedly began a relationship with another committee staffer afterward.
“It would be great if Sen. Warner would spend his time making sure that his staff stopped sleeping with New York Times reporters, and leaking highly classified information to the media. If he can get control of that first, perhaps then he can take a look at the internet. It is a serious problem,” Caputo said.