SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee used his new Parler account to tout the fight he’s picking with Google, Facebook, Twitter and Squarespace over how each internet platform moderates content in general, and potentially targets conservative voices
“Somehow, I’m willing to be(t) this will get more likes and shares on Parer (sic) than it will on Facebook and Twitter combined. In any event, I picked a big fight today with Google, Facebook, and Twitter,” Lee posted to his @SenMikeLee Parler account Thursday evening.
Parler has emerged as the social media darling of some conservative U.S. politicians and commentators, and Lee has even worked to pump up the platform by issuing an invitation to President Donald Trump to join the party. Ironically, that invitation was proffered on Twitter, where the president enjoys a follower list north of 80 million accounts.
Not surprisingly, Parler was not one of the addressees of Lee’s letter Thursday that instead went to the CEOs of Google, Facebook, Twitter and Squarespace.
Lee, who earlier this week announced the Senate antitrust committee he chairs will host a hearing focused on Google and its online advertising practices, said he is most concerned with company conduct he believes is based on political bias rather than consistent, across-the-board content policies.
“I am specifically concerned about corporations wielding their power unilaterally to silence opinions they dislike, and thus warp the public debates their platforms present to the American people,” Lee wrote. “In recent years, conservative voices like The Federalist, PragerU, President Trump, Sen. Marsh Blackburn, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump, Jr., churches, religious groups, Christian schools and others have found themselves deplatformed, demonetized or otherwise penalized for expressing their opinions.”
Lee’s concerns mirror some lines of questioning that arose during a House antitrust hearing this week that featured the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.
During that virtual hearing, Congressman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio reeled off a list of instances of purported censoring of, or content warnings issued to, conservative social media posters.
Jordan accused the group of tech executives of selectively censoring those expressing politically conservative opinions and cautioned them that “If it doesn’t end, there have to be consequences.”
Lee issued his own admonishment of big tech companies and the power he says they’re using inappropriately.
“I view your heavy-handed censorship as a sign of exactly the sort of degraded quality one expects from a monopolist,” Lee wrote. “In any other business you would never dream of treating your customers the way you treat those with views you don’t like.”
In another Parler post on Thursday evening, Utah’s senior senator linked to a story posted by right-wing website Breitbart News claiming Google has been censoring the outlet’s content from search results since the 2016 election. Attached to the post was Lee’s comment, “This is not ok, and it has to stop.”
In his letter, Lee also called out tech leaders for their roles in taking down video content that circulated earlier this week that showed what was characterized as a press conference by a group calling itself “America’s Frontline Doctors.”
CNN reported that the video, which had not been viewed by the Deseret News, was published by Breitbart News and included a quote from a woman claiming to be a doctor who said “This virus has a cure, it’s called hydroxychloroquine, zinc, and Zithromax,” and “You don’t need masks, there is a cure.”
Lee declined to take a position on the content of the video, but said he supported a social media arena of open dialogue.
“While I’m not in a position to endorse or refute any of the doctors’ comments, I believe that we should err on the side of encouraging more speech, not less,” Lee wrote.
The heart of the letter goes to 11 questions seeking details of how each of the platforms manages content moderation in the stipulated areas of COVID-19; violent riots and how they are distinguished from peaceful protests; hate speech; protections of the unborn; misinformation; and terrorist influence.
The questions include how content standards are established, the scope of processes designed to screen moderators for bias, whether user consent about content moderation is appropriately established, if platforms coordinate with each other on content moderation and other issues.
Deseret News requests for comment via email and social media direct messaging to Google, Facebook, Twitter and Squarespace were not immediately responded to.