Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) said Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance before a House committee on Wednesday will be “the first of many.” She joined SiriusXM host Rebecca Mansour and special guest host Sam Sorbo that evening on Breitbart News Tonight to discuss the impact of Facebook on free speech, expression, and privacy rights.
Blackburn described Zuckerberg as unprepared to discuss certain issues during his testimony. She said, “One of the things that struck me was that [Mark Zuckerberg] seemed really unprepared on issues of legislation, about the Federal Trade Commission consent decrees that [Facebook] had entered into in 2011 and the implications of that. He seemed uninformed about the lawsuits that they had settled and was questioned on. A couple of my Democrat colleagues and I were talking after the hearing, and we had expected him to come before us and be conversant in those issues. … We were surprised that he did not have information to respond to the questions he was asked.”
Blackburn added, “I do think it’s fair to say that we did a little bit of a deeper dive on the issues of privacy and censorship than our colleagues over in the Senate.”
Mansour highlighted Facebook’s deeming of Trump-supporting duo Diamond and Silk as “unsafe” as an example of the online platform’s censoriousness. She remarked, “He kept being asked repeatedly about the censorship of conservatives. Specifically, the case that was mentioned over and over again is the wonderful Trump supporters Diamond and Silk, which is just the most outrageous example, that their page was deemed unsafe.”
Mansour also noted that conservative news media outlets were targeted by Facebook’s new algorithm. She stated, “Conservative publishers have been absolutely targeted by the change in algorithm. Mark Zuckerberg likes us to think that his Facebook is a neutral public forum and that his content reviewers are not involved in picking and choosing winners and losers or deciding opinion, and yet the numbers don’t lie.”
She added, “Conservative sites have seen a massive decline in their Facebook traffic and reach, yet all of the establishment media have gotten a big boost from Mark Zuckerberg. With the way that Facebook is controlling so much of the traffic and the ad revenue — between Facebook and Google, it’s like 70 percent of online revenue for websites — [Mark Zuckerberg] is basically deciding content. So it seems like he has set himself up as the de facto publisher and editor of the world. Doesn’t this call for regulation?”
Blackburn replied, “At one point, [Zuckerberg] made a comment that Facebook is more like a government than a traditional company. So I took that quote from him as meaning that he sees himself as more than a normal company. So let’s start with that premise. I asked him if he was subjectively manipulating his algorithms in order to prioritize content or to censor free speech, and he wanted to push the question off: ‘Well, you know, we have to manipulate our algorithms for things like terrorism,’ and I cut him off, and I said, ‘I got to tell you. Diamond and Silk is not terrorism. That is not terrorism.’”
Blackburn added, “[Zuckerberg] made the point that I was wanting to make — that they are subjective in how they manipulate these algorithms. Then he referenced that they have 15 to 20 thousand content managers who look at content, and he admitted that Silicon Valley is a liberal place and people bring their bias to work with them even though he said he does not want them to exercise that bias in their jobs. We all know that they do.”
Mansour spoke of Facebook’s capacity to stifle conservatives’ voices and crush conservative news media outlets due to his control of their online traffic and ad revenue. She warned that Zuckerberg “can destroy a website because of all the online traffic,” asking, “Do we want to give that much power to Mark Zuckerberg? Doesn’t this scream for trust-busting or some sort of regulation?”
Blackburn called for new legislation related to online privacy. She stated, “This is why we need to have protections for users who are using this site — because it is a tremendous amount of power, and it is why there needs to be statutes that will guard the privacy and [enact] laws so that you retain the right to protect your virtual you, you and your presence online, because they make a boatload of money selling the information about you to people that you do not know.”
Blackburn reflected on Twitter’s censorship of one of her own campaign ads. She recalled, “What they’re trying to do is get a result or an outcome. When I announced my run for Senate, what did Twitter do? Twitter shut down my campaign announcement. They would not let us boost that post because they did not like my “inflammatory language,” which was pro-life language. They did not approve of that. Chairman Upton in the hearing today mentioned a friend of his in Michigan. He was running for office, and Facebook had taken down his campaign website because of — guess what — ‘inflammatory language.’ So if anything that they don’t agree with or they don’t like or they want to squelch, what do they do? They claim that this is something that is inflammatory or offensive, and then they put the kibosh on it. They don’t allow people to see it, and that is a censoring of free speech. They need to make up their mind as to what they are. Are they going to be an organic platform? Are they going to be a news company? Are they going to be an advertising company? Maybe that’s the growing pains of a very big business.”
Blackburn added, “I just found it interesting that he tried to always say, ‘We’re just here to connect people.’ Well, they do a lot more than connect people, but he got off into some of the other businesses that they do. The broadband expansion that they’re doing. They’re even trying to do a plane that will be used as a connector, if you will, for people. There are so many other areas they are working in, so it is simplistic to say they are simply a platform for people to connect because they are an enormous advertising company.”
In October 2017, Twitter blocked Blackburn’s senatorial campaign ad highlighting her work as chairwoman of the House Select Panel’s investigation of fetal tissue trafficking. Twitter deemed Blackburn’s ad as “an inflammatory statement that is likely to evoke a strong negative reaction.”
Aric Nesbitt, a Republican candidate for Michigan’s Senate, experienced Facebook blocking his campaign ad. A Facebook message advised him, “We don’t allow ads that contain shocking, disrespectful, or sensational content.”
Mansour cautioned, “This is a very dangerous situation where they’re trying to shut down our ability to organize and to have a voice and to get our news. If they succeed in doing this, it’s basically crippling the populist conservative movement in its cradle.”
Blackburn concluded by warning against implementation of regulations that may stultify Facebook’s nascent competitors while further entrenching Facebook’s online dominance. She remarked, “I will caution one thing. Sometimes, when a company becomes very large, they will say they would like to have federal regulation. They do that because federal regulation is expensive and costly, and new-start competitors can’t compete with that. So you eliminate competition. This is why we need a very simple privacy standard and one set of rules and one regulator, and that’s it.”
Breitbart News Tonight broadcasts live Monday through Friday on SiriusXM’s Patriot channel 125 from 9:00 p.m. to midnight Eastern (6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Pacific).
Follow Robert Kraychik on Twitter @rkraychik.