Social media's 'disparate impact' on conservatives unfair trade practice, Lee says

By Leah Nylen
·2 min read

Twitter, Facebook and Google take actions that have a “disparate impact” on conservatives, Sen. Mike Lee said at Wednesday's Senate hearing with tech CEOs, suggesting their policies aren't being enforced equally for all users and could amount to unfair business practices.

The Federal Trade Commission can challenge unfair or deceptive business practices, and President Donald Trump's May executive order on social media urged the agency to consider against against social media firms on that basis.

FTC Chair Joseph Simons, a Republican, and several of his colleagues have publicly rejected the idea. But Lee — who oversees the FTC from his perch as chair of the Judiciary Committee’s antitrust, competition and consumer rights panel — told the CEOs he believes “there is a good case to be made that you are engaging in unfair or deceptive trade practices in violation of federal law.”

“Each of you tell consumers and the public about your business practices but then you seem to do the opposite,” Lee (R-Utah) said. “Given the disparate impact of who gets censored on your platforms, it seems you are not enforcing your terms of service equally or you are writing your standards to target conservative viewpoints.”

The three CEOs — Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Google’s Sundar Pichai — said they don’t take ideological considerations into account when deciding what posts to take down or label. Independent analysts have also found no evidence of systemic bias against conservatives.

Lee challenged all three companies to name a prominent liberal politician or group that has faced removal. Dorsey said at least two Democratic House members have had tweets labeled for voting disinformation, while Pichai said the search giant has refused ads by progressive group Priorities USA and the former vice president Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.

Lee, however, said conservatives have many more instances of “censorship” than liberals.

“It’s an enormous disparity,” he said. “You can’t promise certain corporate behavior and then deceive customers through contradictory actions that just blatantly contradict what you’ve stated as your corporate business model or your policy.”