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Sen. Ted Cruz grills Twitter’s Jack Dorsey on censoring free speech

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Twitter's Jack Dorsey made his second appearance before the Senate, where Texas Senator Ted Cruz grilled the CEO on the misuse of editorial power.

Video Transcript

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Senator Cruz.

TED CRUZ: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Facebook and Twitter and Google have massive power. They have a monopoly on public discourse in the online arena.

I will say it's dismaying listening to the questions from our Democratic colleagues, because consistently, the message from Senate Democrats is for Facebook and Twitter and Google to censor more, to abuse their power more, to silence voices that Senate Democrats disagree with more. That is very dangerous if we want to maintain a free and fair democracy, if we want to maintain free speech. There was a time when Democrats embraced and defended the principles of free speech. There was a time when Democrats embraced and defended the principles of a free press.

And yet there is an absolute silence from Democrats speaking up for the press outlets censored by big tech. There's an absolute silence for Democrats speaking out for the citizens silenced by big tech. Instead, there is a demand, use even more power to silence dissent. And that's a totalitarian instinct that I think is very dangerous.

At the same time that big tech exercises massive power, it also enjoys massive corporate welfare through the effect of Section 230, a special immunity from liability that nobody else gets. Congress has given big tech, in effect, a subsidy while they become some of the wealthiest corporations on the face of the planet. Mr. Dorsey, I want to focus primarily on Twitter and ask you initially, is Twitter a publisher?

JACK DORSEY: Is Twitter a publisher?

TED CRUZ: Yes.

JACK DORSEY: No, we are not. We distribute information.

TED CRUZ: So what is a publisher?

JACK DORSEY: An entity that is publishing under editorial guidelines and decisions.

TED CRUZ: Well, your answer happens to be contrary to the text of federal statute, particular Section 230, which defines an information content provider as any person or entity that is responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of information provided through the internet or any other interactive computer service. Let me ask you, was Twitter being a publisher when it censored "The New York Post"?

JACK DORSEY: No. We have very clear policies on the conduct we enable on the platform. And if there's a violation, we take an enforcement action. And people choose to commit to those policies and to those terms of service.

TED CRUZ: Except your policies are applied in a partisan and selective manner. You claim it was hacked materials, and yet you didn't block the distribution of "The New York Times" story that alleged to talk about President Trump's tax returns, even though a federal statute makes it a crime to distribute someone's tax returns without their consent. You didn't block any of that discussion, did you?

JACK DORSEY: Our policy was focused on distribution of the actual hacked materials. And in "The New York"--

TED CRUZ: Did you block the discussion of the president's tax return material?

JACK DORSEY: And in "The New York Times" case, we interpreted it as reporting about the hacked materials, not the speech of the--

TED CRUZ: Did you block Edward Snowden when he illegally released material?

JACK DORSEY: I don't have the answer to that.

TED CRUZ: The answer's no. You haven't used this in a selective manner. Let me ask you, were you being a publisher when you forced Politico, another journalistic outlet, to take down their tweets on a topic that you had deemed impermissible?

JACK DORSEY: No. We were enforcing our policy and our terms of service.

TED CRUZ: So on October 15, Jake Sherman, a reporter at Politico tweeted the following. "I tweeted a link to the 'New York Post' story right after it dropped yesterday morning. I immediately reached out to the Biden campaign to see if they had any answer. I wish I'd given the story a closer read before tweeting it. Twitter suspended me."

So you actually have a reporter reporting on a story, asking the other side for comment, and Twitter says, "Hi, Jake Sherman, your account @JakeSherman has been locked for violating Twitter rules." Now, what did the Politico reporter do? He immediately tweets after that, "My goal was not to spread information." Well, that's a little worrisome just on-- in and of itself.

"My goal was to raise questions about the story. Oh, my overlords in Silicon Valley, I was attacking 'The New York Post.' You don't understand. I was attacking them, as I did in subsequent tweets, and see how the Biden campaign was going to respond."

They later did respond. And then not long after, Jake Sherman comes back with, "My account is clearly no longer suspended. I deleted the tweet."

When Twitter is editing, and censoring, and silencing "The New York Post," the four-- the newspaper with the fourth-highest circulation in the country, and Politico, one of the leading newspapers in the country, is Twitter behaving as a publisher when it's deciding what stories reporters are allowed to write and publish and what stories they're not?

JACK DORSEY: No, and that account was not suspended. It followed the hacked materials policy. We realized that there was an error in that policy and the enforcement.

TED CRUZ: Hold on--

JACK DORSEY: We corrected that within 24 hours.

TED CRUZ: --I'm literally looking at a tweet from Twitter that says, "Your account has been locked." You're telling me that this is not an accurate--

JACK DORSEY: That's a lock. That's a lock and can be unlocked when you delete the offending tweet.

TED CRUZ: I understand that you have the star chamber power. Your answer is always, well, once we silence you, we can choose to allow you to speak. But you are engaged in publishing decisions.

Let me shift to a different topic. Mr. Dorsey, does voter fraud exist?

JACK DORSEY: I don't know for certain.

TED CRUZ: Are you an expert in voter fraud?

JACK DORSEY: No, I'm not.

TED CRUZ: Well, why then is Twitter right now putting purported warnings on virtually any statement about voter fraud?

JACK DORSEY: We're simply linking to a broader conversation so that people have more information.

TED CRUZ: No. No, you're not. You put up a page that says, quote, "Voter fraud of any kind is exceedingly rare in the United States." That's not linking to a broader conversation. That's taking a disputed policy position.

And you're a publisher when you're doing that. You're entitled to take a policy position. But you don't get to pretend you're not a publisher and get a special benefit under Section 230 as a result.

JACK DORSEY: That link is pointing to a broader conversation with tweets from publishers and people all around the country.

TED CRUZ: Mr. Dorsey, would the following statement violate Twitter's policies? Quote, "Absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud."

JACK DORSEY: I imagine that we would label it so that people can have more context in [INAUDIBLE].

TED CRUZ: How about this quote? Quote, "Third-party organizations, candidates, and political activists"-- voter fraud is particularly possible where, quote, "third-party organizations, candidates, and political party activists are involved in, quote, 'handling absentee ballots.'" Would you flag that as potentially misleading?

JACK DORSEY: I don't, you know, know the specifics of how we might enforce that. But I imagine a lot of these would have a label pointing people to a bigger conversation, broader conversation.

TED CRUZ: Well, you're right. You would label them because you've taken the political position right now that voter fraud doesn't exist. I would note, both of those quotes come from the Carter-Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform.

That is Democratic President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker. And Twitter's position is essentially voter fraud does not exist. Are you aware that just two weeks ago in the state of Texas a woman was charged with 134 counts of election fraud? Are you aware of that?

JACK DORSEY: I'm not aware of that.

TED CRUZ: If I tweeted that statement with a link to the indictment, would you put a warning on it that says, well, the Democratic Party position right now is voter fraud doesn't exist?

JACK DORSEY: I don't think it's useful to get into hypotheticals, but I don't believe so.

TED CRUZ: You don't believe so. Well, we're going to test that because I'm going to tweet that. And we'll see what you put on it.

All right, yesterday, Mr. Dorsey, you and I spent a considerable amount of time on the phone. And you said that you wanted to embrace transparency. So I want to ask you-- I have asked Twitter, I've asked Facebook multiple times. How many times have you blocked Republican candidates for office, their tweets or their posts in 2016 and 2018 and 2020?

How many times have you blocked Democratic candidates for office? How many times have you blocked Republican officeholders? How many times have you blocked Democratic officeholders? Twitter has repeatedly refused to answer that question with specific hard data and cataloging the examples. In the interest of transparency, which you said you want to embrace, will you commit in this hearing right now to answer those questions in writing?

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

JACK DORSEY: That's what we want to do.

TED CRUZ: I'm sorry, Mr. Dorsey, I didn't hear you.

JACK DORSEY: That's exactly what we're pushing for as we think about building upon 230.

TED CRUZ: Is that--

JACK DORSEY: It's transparency not just--

TED CRUZ: --a yes that you will answer those questions in writing?

JACK DORSEY: Transparency not just of outcomes, but also our process as well.

TED CRUZ: Is that a yes that you will answer those questions in writing?

JACK DORSEY: We'll certainly look into it and see what we can do.

TED CRUZ: And actually answer them and not give lawyerly doublespeak about why you're not going to give us specifics. Answer them. Will you commit to this committee that you will answer those questions?

JACK DORSEY: We're going to work to answering broader transparency around outcomes.

TED CRUZ: All right, that's a no. Mr. Zuckerberg, how about you? Will you comment that Facebook will answer those specific questions cataloging the number of instances in which Democrats in '16, '18, and '20 have been silenced versus the number of instances in which Republicans have been silenced on Facebook?

MARK ZUCKERBERG: Senator, I'm not sure if we have that data available. But I will follow up with you or your team.

TED CRUZ: OK, I'm going to take that as a yes. And I'm going to take-- Twitter, we'll see if it's a yes. Or transparency is bogus, and we don't intend to provide it.