Hydroxychloroquine isn’t a cure for COVID-19 and saying so will get your content yanked from Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg told a House hearing on Wednesday.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) hauled the CEOs of America’s richest and most powerful tech companies before the House as part of an investigation into whether the stunning growth of the technology industry leaders has strangled competition. The hearing—nominally about their “dominance” in the marketplace for advertising, retail, and software—quickly became a referendum for House Republicans on whether the companies’ content moderation policies are biased against conservative viewpoints
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust regulation subcommittee, pressed Zuckerberg about Twitter’s decision to remove a video—shared by the president’s son among others—touting the antimalarial drug as a “cure” for COVID-19.
Facebook, of course, didn’t take any enforcement action against Donald Trump Jr. because he’d posted the video on Twitter, not Facebook. But Zuckerberg emphasized that while he doesn’t want the responsibility of being an “arbiter of truth,” sometimes Facebook feels compelled to act.
“Stating that there’s a proven cure for COVID when there is in fact none” could cause “imminent risk of harm,” Zuckerberg said, and so definitive claims about a “cure” for the disease will be taken down.
Cicilline, chairman of the subcommittee, tried to stick to the nominal purpose of the hearing—”Examining the Dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google”—and claimed that the tech titans “have too much power.”
The hearing comes as many on the left are increasingly calling for anti-trust crackdowns on the tech behemoths and conservatives allege that social media companies’ policies against extremist content and misinformation unfairly target right-wing users and messaging.
In a memo written by Republican committee staff and circulated before the hearing, Republicans tried to straddle a fine line between criticizing the tech titans for an alleged bias against conservatives while pushing back on what they said was an effort by Democrats that punishes “hard work and success, and condemns large companies out of a vague notion that ‘big is bad.’”
For House Republicans, the tech industry’s accumulation of power wasn’t a problem per se so long as it doesn’t conflict with conservative viewpoints and causes.
Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) blasted Google for “offending half the people who use your product” with an alleged anti-conservative bias and wondered why that hadn’t resulted in a corresponding decrease in market share for the company.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) pressed Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google parent Alphabet, not to give into “bigoted anti-police policy” after some employees wrote a letter asking that the company stop selling services to police and law enforcement in light of concerns about police violence and white supremacy. Google’s decision to back out of a joint venture with the Defense Department, Project Maven, led Gaetz to “really call into question their commitment to our country and our values.”
In Google’s case, Pichai punted on the questions by reiterating the company’s commitment to working with law enforcement based on due process and the rule of law.
When pressed with similar questions, Zuckerberg said he “believes companies shouldn’t be making so many decisions by themselves” about hot button social and political issues and highlighted his previous calls for regulation from the government to supplant Facebook’s exercise of its own discretion.