Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is facing questions on Wednesday from a House committee amid criticism from Republicans that Big Tech suppresses conservatives online.
Dorsey’s appearance before the House Energy and Commerce Committee is his second hearing of the day; earlier he spoke to the Senate intelligence committee about the role Twitter has played in foreign influence campaigns.
The scene in the Capitol on Wednesday was tense.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio clashed with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones after Jones confronted and touched him outside the contentious Senate intelligence hearing.
Jones interrupted Rubio as he was being interviewed by a scrum of reporters outside a room where the intelligence committee was hearing from Dorsey and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.
Jones says Democrats are behind the broader efforts in the tech world to censor programming in which he spouts a range of debunked theories.
Jones says Republicans, like Rubio, are pretending the unfair censorship “doesn’t exist.”
On Wednesday, as Rubio was answering questions from journalists, Jones raised his voice to call the senator a “frat boy” and said he was a “snake,” before patronizingly patting him on his shoulder. A security officer warned Jones not to touch Rubio, before the senator turned to him.
“Hey, don’t touch me again, man,” Rubio said. “I’m asking you not to touch me.”
“Well, I just patted you nicely,” Jones said.
“Well, I don’t want to be touched — I don’t know who you are,” Rubio said.
Jones asked if he was going to be arrested, to which Rubio responded: “You’re not going to get arrested, man. You’re not going to get arrested. I’ll take care of you myself.”
Jones seemed to relish in the confrontation, asking if Rubio was going to beat him up.
“I didn’t say that,” Rubio said.
Rubio then started laughing and turned away from him, as Jones called him a “little gangster thug.” Jones turned to a person filming the interaction and said “Rubio just threatened to physically take care of me.”
Rubio answered one more reporter’s question, as Jones yelled next to him, before leaving the scrum.
Throughout the interaction, Rubio repeatedly claimed he didn’t know who Jones was and said he didn’t read his website.
Criticism about “bias”
Jones is at the center of a political dispute over freedom of speech that continues playing out in Congress this week. Facebook, YouTube, Apple and Spotify have all made moves in recent months to remove content posted by Jones.
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz invoked a warning associated with the early days of the Holocaust in suggesting that what he called the suppression of Jones was the beginning of a slippery slope toward the suppression of other political speech.
Republicans, conservatives and President Trump have focused their comments on other examples of what they call suppression of conservative voices by Big Tech.
They point to “shadow-banning” on Twitter that they say disproportionately silences conservatives and to Facebook’s suspension of certain accounts, including those of Trump supporters Diamond and Silk.
The tech companies deny any systemic bias.
There is likely to be more investigation and public comment: Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited the Senate hearing on Wednesday in announcing that he intends to meet with state attorneys general to discuss bias.
Big Tech is caught between living up to its professed commitments to deliver open platforms and pressure from the government, especially the Senate intelligence committee, to crack down on the circulation of false information.
“At a time when these same platforms have said that they will try to winnow out fake news, hoax news, they’ve been hard pressed to explain why they’ve allowed Jones to continue to operate,” as NPR’s David Folkenflik said last month.