Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) pushed back on Monday in a discussion about free speech with Washington Post tech reporter Tony Romm, who pressed Cruz about whether attacks on social media about people’s sexual orientation or ethnicity should be censored.
Cruz was invited to the event to talk about censorship of conservative views on social media — a topic that was the focus of a hearing Cruz held as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution in recent weeks, during which representatives of Twitter and Facebook testified.
“Do you want a handful of billionaires making those decisions or do you want the public square, the merits, the ideas making those [decisions]?” Cruz asked rhetorically at the forum.
“And even scurrilous lies — the best way to respond to scurrilous lies is to address them and shine a light on them. Don’t simply try to silence anything you disagree with,” Cruz said.
Romm asked Cruz during Monday’s discussion if he believes tech giants Twitter, Facebook, and Google regularly censor conservative viewpoints on their platforms.
Cruz said he thinks political bias and censorship on social media do exist and Americans — especially conservatives — are worried about it.
“This is a concern I hear from Texans and Americans all across this country that the power being amassed in a handful of big tech media companies is a level of power really unprecedented in our political discourse,” said Cruz.
He cited how the Twitter account of the pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) has been censored and how even the video now-Sen. Marsha Blackburn’s (R-TN) posted announcing that she was running, which included her opposition to abortion, was temporarily removed.
Cruz said at the recent hearing and at an earlier hearing, where Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had testified, that the tech titans refuse to answer direct questions about how they manage content on their platforms, including refusal to answer written followup questions Cruz submitted asking whether they had ever banned pro-choice content or content from left-wing social media accounts.
“The answer that Facebook basically gave to all these questions is ‘Go jump in a lake. We’re not going tell you,’” Cruz said.
Throughout the discussion, Romm repeatedly asked Cruz about whether he supported free speech in cases such as Alex Jones being banned from social media and the recent YouTube decision to demonetize conservative comic and commentator Steven Crowder after he insulted a Vox reporter.
“You don’t think YouTube should have taken action against Crowder?” asked Romm.
“Absolutely not,” Cruz said.
“Look insults are included in free speech, and if someone doesn’t like what someone is saying, the response is to respond to them and push back,” Cruz said.
Cruz cited the insults he regularly gets on his own Twitter account.
“If you go on my Twitter page right now, pick any random tweet — I could tweet about the weather outside, and I guarantee you there are a bunch of commentators telling me to do things that are anatomically impossible — having all sorts of insults, and you know what? They are protected,” Cruz said. “They have a right to do that.”
“Free speech can be messy and ugly,” Cruz said, even in the case of the ugliest speech.
“Nazis are ignorant, bigoted, racist morons, and yet the Supreme Court rightly said they have a right to march in Skokie, Illinois,” Cruz said. “The answer to their stupidity is not to silence them and say, ‘You’re not allowed to speak.””
“The answer is for us to speak up and say that is ignorant and bigoted and racist and moronic,” Cruz said. “So if the reporter didn’t like what Crowder was saying, engage with him.”
Cruz said even something like The Communist Manifesto should not be censored or removed from the public square even if “billions” of people have suffered under Communism, including his own family in his native Cuba.
“Hell no, The Communist Manifesto shouldn’t be censored,” Cruz said. “If we’re suddenly in the business of saying some ideas are too dangerous to be heard that way lies madness.”
Romm also questioned Cruz about his support for Alex Jones, who was banned from social media for what was deemed offensive content and a man the senator called a “crackpot” who“routinely accused my father of killing John F. Kennedy.”
“To be honest, I don’t like crackpots that accuse my father of murder — that’s why I defended his First Amendment rights because the First Amendment is about letting people speak and letting the marketplace of ideas decide,” Cruz said.
Cruz said during the discussion that there is a “very good argument” to be made for the breakup of monopolies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google.
He also said social media companies have an immunity under a section of the Communications Decency Act because they were initially deemed to be neutral platforms.
“If they’re going to be partisan gatekeepers, there’s no reason that the big tech media companies should have a special immunity from liability,” Cruz said.
But, Cruz said the government is not the solution to reigning in big tech companies.
“Everyone agrees that federal speech police would be a terrible idea,” Cruz said. “No one wants to see the federal government engaged in this.”
Google, Facebook, and Twitter should, Cruz said, be held accountable for how they operate.
“There’s absolutely zero accountability on the political bias of these companies, and they simply say, ‘Trust us,’” Cruz said. “And even if you agree with their politics, that kind of unchecked power should trouble you.”
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