Facebook’s moderation policies continue to rile up lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, with Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri on Saturday becoming the first GOP senator to openly call for the breakup of the company.
“I’ve had enough. Break Facebook up already. It’s time,” Hawley tweeted. “I’ve fought Facebook over censorship of pro-lifers, censorship of independent media (like New York Post), censorship of conservative commentators. Facebook is dangerous because Facebook is a MONOPOLY – with unprecedented power over communication. End it.”
Hawley’s comments were spurred by Facebook deleting a post by The Babylon Bee, a right-leaning satirical site akin to The Onion. The post, editor-in-chief Kyle Mann tweeted, joked that Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, wanted to weigh Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett against a duck “to see if she is a witch.” Mann said the post was removed for violating Facebook’s “community standards,” although he wasn’t notified what the exact violation was and that Facebook threatened to restrict monetization on future posts.
Mann did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment.
“If this means Congress must change [and] update the antitrust laws, so be it,” Hawley added.
(Taking action against Facebook under existing legislation may not lead anywhere, antitrust experts have told TheWrap previously. You can read more on the topic by clicking here.)
Hawley isn’t the first member of Congress to target Facebook in recent months. Most notably, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) last year proposed breaking up Facebook, Amazon and Google during her bid for the Democratic nomination for president. She compared the current tech landscape to a modern day Gilded Age, where smaller companies are unable to compete with the major players.
“We need to stop this generation of big tech companies from throwing around their political power to shape the rules in their favor and throwing around their economic power to snuff out or buy up every potential competitor,” Warren said. Warren’s relationship with Facebook grew even icier soon after, when Facebook briefly pulled her ads calling for the company’s breakup.
Warren has also skewered Facebook’s moderation policies, including its decision to not fact-check political ads. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in response to complaints by Warren and others, said he’d rather have users determine what is and isn’t true, rather than the company.
“What I believe is that in a democracy it’s really important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying, so they can make their own judgments,” Zuckerberg said last December. “And, you know, I don’t think that a private company should be censoring politicians or news.”
Facebook, along with Twitter, is also facing scrutiny over its handling of a New York Post report this week on Hunter Biden.
The report said Biden introduced his father, former Vice President and current Democratic nominee Joe Biden, to a “top executive” at a Ukrainian energy company before pressuring Ukrainian lawmakers to fire a prosecutor looking into the company. However, the story has been questioned by many established news outlets because it was based on unauthenticated emails that the Post said were extracted from Hunter Biden’s computer — which has also not been proven.
Shortly after the story was published, Facebook said it was “reducing” the report in users’ Newsfeeds. Twitter went even farther, blocking users from sharing the “potentially harmful” story, as a Twitter warning label put it. Twitter said the story was blocked for violating its policy against sharing hacked material. Twitter reversed its decision later in the week, with CEO Jack Dorsey saying it had taken the “wrong” approach.
By that point, though, the companies were already facing plenty of heat. Trump-appointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Thursday said the commission will be reviewing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which grants broad legal protections for tech companies to censor and moderate content on their platforms. That, coupled with the antitrust concerns from Hawley and others, have put Silicon Valley in the crosshairs of Washington, D.C.