House Republicans sent a letter demanding Meta answer if policies on its new Twitter-style platform, Threads, violates free speech.
The letter, which was obtained exclusively by CNBC, is a hint that Meta’s latest product could bring it further scrutiny in Congress.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, asked Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg on July 17 to send over documents about Threads’s content moderation practices by the end of July.
Mr. Jordan told Meta that the GOP controlled House Judiciary Committee is “concerned about potential First Amendment violations that have occurred or will occur on the Threads platform.”
“Indeed, Threads raises serious, specific concerns because it has been marketed as rival of Elon Musk’s Twitter, which has faced political persecution from the Biden Administration following Musk’s commitment to free speech,” wrote the Ohio congressman.
This is the latest House Republican investigation into Meta and other tech platforms’ alleged collusion with the Biden administrations over censoring dissenting voices, with significant reports of censorship from conservatives.
On Feb. 15, Jordan sent Meta a subpoena related to the Judiciary Committee’s ongoing investigation into the Democrats’ influence on big tech content moderation, according to CNBC.
“Since the Committee’s subpoena to Meta, we have obtained additional evidence that the federal government has coerced or colluded with technology, social media, and other companies to moderate content online,” Rep. Jordan wrote.
“These examples reinforce the Committee’s serious concerns about whether the Executive Branch is engaging in censorship by proxy—using surrogates to censor, suppress, or discourage speech in a manner that the government is unable to do itself.”
Rep. Jordan added that the panel’s earlier subpoena, which was also sent to Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft, “is continuing in nature,” meaning that it also applies to Threads despite its July launch.
He said the recent letter serves as a formal notice to instruct Meta to provide all relative information and documents related to Threads, regarding content moderation discussions with the Biden administration by July 31.
“Please treat these discovery obligations as ongoing and applicable to any information generated after receipt of this letter,” added Rep. Jordan.
They argued that First Amendment protections allow private companies suppress any content that they choose to ban on their platforms.
Republicans Wary of Meta’s Motives
After his purchase of Twitter, Mr. Musk said that he wanted the online chat platform to conform with his own ideas on absolute freedom of speech, despite reserving the need to suspend some users at times for inciting violence or criminal activity.
Although executives at Meta have clearly stated that conversations on their new platform should not be dominated by news and politics, many users familiar with Twitter tend to use the platform to discuss those subjects.
If users on Threads are increasingly censored by Meta for posting their political views, this could land the social media company in political hot water.
“Given that Meta has censored First Amendment-protected speech as a result of government agencies’ requests and demands in the past, the Committee is concerned about potential First Amendment violations that have occurred or will occur on the Threads platform.
“There are reports that Threads will enforce ‘Instagram’s community guidelines,’ which resulted in lawful speech being moderated following pressure by the government,” he continued.
Mr. Jordan pointed to an article in the Wall Street Journal that reported that Biden’s Federal Trade Commission had demanded that Twitter hand over internal communications about Musk and identify journalists who were allowed to access the company’s records.
This was allegedly part of a probe by the FTC into whether Twitter was able to safely protect user information.
Biden Administration Faces Setbacks on Attempts to Control Discourse
A recent lawsuit filed against the Biden administration by the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana, alleging that the federal government had violated protected speech in its efforts to get social media platforms to ban any comments it deemed to be disinformation or harmful, was noted by Mr. Jordan.
Opinions that challenged the official narrative during the COVID-19 pandemic or the 2020 elections, for example, were suppressed.
On July 4, the two Republican state AGs won a victory, after a federal judge in Louisiana granted a preliminary injunction, blocking the White House from communicating with social media companies to order them to throttle or delete posts.
Administration officials were also prevented from flagging certain kinds of social media posts in order to encourage their removal or suppression.
However, on July 14, an appeals court issued a temporary pause on the lower court ruling, which could mean that government flagging of social media posts could resume until the courts further consider the case.