×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Sets Meeting on Whether Social Media Is ‘Stifling’ Political Viewpoints

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions plans to meet later this month with state attorneys general to talk about a “growing concern” that social media giants “may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms.”

The Justice Department issued a statement announcing plans for the meeting just after Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday on the foreign influence found on platforms, including that of Russia and Iran.

But the topic of Sessions’ meeting appeared to be in line with complaints from President Donald Trump and some congressional Republicans that Facebook, Twitter, and Google have been stifling conservative voices. Trump has also suggested that social media giants could be in violation of antitrust laws.

Compared to the complaints over platform political bias in recent weeks, the Senate hearing was relatively free of grievances from lawmakers that conservative voices were being blocked. In his closing remarks, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman of the committee, even acknowledged the challenge of imposing any kind of regulation on platforms without violating the First Amendment.

Dorsey alone is set to face the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday afternoon, and is expected to face a host of questions from lawmakers who claim that Twitter’s practices have been biased against conservative voices.

Michael Beckerman, the president and CEO of The Internet Association, said in a statement to Variety last week that “it’s clear to me and to most people that there is not political bias in search and there is not political bias on social media.”

Another industry group, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, responded to the Justice Department statement by arguing that there is plenty of competition for news and information.

“Technology companies compete aggressively with one another as well as those outside of the technology sector,” said Matt Schruers, vice president of the group. “Consumers have many choices for information services and news sources online. The attorneys general will find that a competing offering is always a few clicks away.”

Larry Downes,  project director of the Center for Business and Public Policy at Georgetown University, said that the Justice Department, by raising antitrust concerns, is putting pressure on platforms to take action.
“Threatening antitrust action is always the big stick the government waves when it wants to encourage voluntary changes,” he said via e-mail. “But what changes do they want?  The Administration has raised concerns that some platforms are ‘censoring’ certain political viewpoints.  But they have offered no evidence of this.
He added, “Even if there was, private actors are not bound by the First Amendment—they can moderate content however they want, with few exceptions.  If the platforms promise political neutrality, then they can be held to that promise by the Federal Trade Commission.  But again, only if there is proof that they’ve violated it.”

Popular on Variety

More Digital

  • The Simpsons

    Disney Plus Will Make 'The Simpsons' Available in Original Uncropped Format in Early 2020

    Eep! After an outcry from “The Simpsons” aficionados, Disney has decided to offer classic episodes of the iconic animated sitcom on Disney Plus in their original 4-by-3 aspect ratio early next year. The streaming service launched Nov. 12 in the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands with the full batch of “Simpsons” episodes in 16-by-9 HD [...]

  • Verizon Stream TV

    Stream TV Review: Verizon’s New Streaming Device Is One Odd Duck

    Verizon has an answer to Roku, but it’s not talking much about it: The mobile carrier quietly released a new streaming device this week that promises to bring services like HBO, Hulu and YouTube to your TV. Dubbed Stream TV, the device is a solid streamer based on Google’s Android TV platform, albeit with a [...]

  • Hulu With Live TV Full Channel

    Hulu Hiking Price of Live TV Service 22%, to $55 per Month

    Hulu is implementing its second price increase in less than a year for its Hulu With Live TV product — with the base package of 60-plus live channels increasing 22%, to $54.99 per month. The price hike on the monthly base price of Hulu With Live TV will go into effect Dec. 18 for all [...]

  • Hulu With Live TV

    Hulu Live TV Tops Sling TV as No. 1 Streaming Pay-TV Service, Analysts Estimate

    Hulu With Live TV has edged out Dish Network’s Sling TV to take the crown as the biggest virtual pay-television service in the U.S., according to new analyst estimates. They were among the only winners amid the cord-cutting carnage that slashed through the sector in the third quarter. As of the end of the third [...]

  • Mubi India

    Mubi Launches Two VoD Channels in India

    Film specialist streaming platform Mubi launched on Friday in India with two channels, Mubi India and Mubi World. The channels are available together for an introductory offer of INR 199 ($2.75) for three months. Thereafter the channels will cost INR 499 ($7) a month or INR 4788 ($66.75) annually. For Mubi India, a channel dedicated [...]

  • U.K. Producer Barcroft Studios Sold to

    U.K.-Based Producer Barcroft Studios Sold to Future in $30 Million Deal

    Barcroft Studios has been bought by Future in a £23.5 million ($30.1 million) deal. The U.K.-based production outfit specializes in factual fare for channels and platforms, and its own branded channels on the likes of YouTube. Future is a U.K.-listed print and online publishing and events business. Sam Barcroft will stay on as CEO at [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content