In a potential presage of fireworks to come, two House Republicans have asked the head of an upstart social media network to weigh in on the House Judiciary Committee’s bipartisan antitrust investigation into tech giants. Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) sent a letter on Wednesday afternoon to John Matze, the CEO of Parler, asking him to weigh in on “the state of competition in social media.”
“Parler differentiates itself on the quality and features of its platform– namely, its commitment to not ‘censor or editorialize, share or sell user data,'” the lawmakers wrote. “This commitment positions Parler in stark contrast to Twitter, which has made increasingly clear in recent weeks and months that only users who refrain from expressing certain unfavored political beliefs are welcome to fully participate on its platform. In turn, Parler’s commitment to free expression takes the place of price as an incentive driving consumer behavior.”
On the same day, the two representatives sent a letter to Twitter’s CEO asking for a host of materials, including explanations of all moderating decisions made in the U.S. over the last year. They also asked for all of Twitter’s internal communications about the decision to fact-check one of President Donald Trump’s tweets and apply a warning to another.
Conservatives have long argued that Twitter unfairly censors people on the right–a contention the company vehemently disputes. The network has banned a variety of far-right personalities for violating its terms of service, which has generated great disgruntlement in some circles.
Parler bills itself as something of a free speech alternative to Twitter, and a number of prominent conservatives–including Rep. Devin Nunes and Sen. Ted Cruz–have opened profiles on the site and promoted it to their Twitter followers.
“I will be on PARLER celebrating Independence Day with the rest of the patriots!” Nunes tweeted jubilantly on Independence Day.
The Republicans’ requests come as the date nears for the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel hearing with the CEOs of Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google parent company Alphabet. And the hearing could be a historic moment in the complex relationship between Silicon Valley and Washington.
The committee has been scrutinizing the companies for months for anti-competitive practices, and is expected to release a report on its findings this summer. That undertaking began with broad bipartisan support.
But the Republicans’ letters suggest their concerns about partisan social media censorship–which their Democratic colleagues emphatically do not share–will gain significant airtime at the hearing.
The letter charges that Twitter “has sought to silence conservative voices” while leaving untouched tweets from Iran’s supreme leader calling for the destruction of Israel.
Jordan sent a letter yesterday raising different concerns about the hearing and Democrats’ approach to the tech probe. The letter accused Democrats of negotiating in bad faith with the tech companies and with Republicans, and criticized them for having the tech CEO hearing before the subcommittee rather than the full committee. Jordan is the top Republican on the committee.
“Although Republicans look forward to this hearing, we were surprised to learn it would not occur at the full committee — the venue that makes the most sense given the scope of the committee’s investigation, the broad interest from members of both parties who do not serve on the subcommittee, and the significance of the witnesses who will testify,” Jordan wrote Tuesday.