A Republican lawmaker slammed Facebook and Google on Wednesday for making it harder to find anti-vaccine content on their platforms, calling the companies’ efforts to stop the spread of the conspiracy theories “really scary stuff.”
Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) attacked the platforms’ efforts at a House Homeland Security committee hearing on online terrorism and disinformation, where representatives from Google, Facebook, and Twitter faced their latest round of grilling from lawmakers.
“If somebody googles vaccines, the answer was ‘oh, we’re going to put above what the person is actually looking for, what we think is best,’” Lesko said. “Who are the people judging what’s best, what’s accurate? This is really scary stuff, and really goes to the heart of our First Amendment rights.”
Lesko made her remarks after a Facebook executive said that Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, downranks users who posted anti-vaccine disinformation in searches. A Google executive said Google’s search engine puts link to accurate articles next to conspiracy theory content.
Lesko compared the companies’ making it harder to spread anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, which have helped fuel measles outbreaks across the country, to George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.
“Years ago, required reading I had was the book 1984,” Lesko said. “And this committee hearing is scaring the heck out of me. I have to tell you, it really is.”
Medical professionals and public officials have all warned that disinformation about vaccines (including a persistent and pernicious conspiracy that they can lead to autism) has fed public health epidemics. But Lesko suggested that anti-vaccine theories are just a difference of opinion.
“What you deem as inaccurate, I do not deem as inaccurate, or other people may not deem,” she said.
The Arizona Republican isn’t the only one who has drawn a parallel between the issue of vaccines and famous works of literature about the rise of statism. Last week, Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson called vaccine mandates “Orwellian,” but later apologized.
Lesko didn’t restrict her criticism of the tech giants to how they have handled anti-vaccine content posted on their platforms. Later in the hearing, she also suggested that they were engaging in anti-conservative bias, relaying that her husband had followed Donald Trump on Twitter but then somehow unfollowed the president without his knowledge.
“A lot of conservatives really think there’s some conspiracy going on here,” Lesko said.
Twitter executive Nick Pickles responded that Trump is the most-followed head of state on the platform.
Lesko wasn’t the only representative who railed against the social media companies, although she was the only one angry that the social media companies are trying to spread the spread of anti-vaccine disinformation.
Several Republicans brought up the latest undercover video from conservative operative James O’Keefe, which purports to show a Google employee saying the site plans to affect the 2020 presidential race. The Google employee in O’Keefe’s footage has said that the video of her was “selectively edited.”