WASHINGTON – U House Oversight and Accountability Committee approved two bills in a party vote on Tuesday for the purpose curb government influence on social media posts on Twitter and Facebook.
An invoice from the chairmanNo, Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., seeks to prohibit federal agency employees from using their authority to influence social media companies to suppress or restrict or add disclaimers to legal comments. The committee voted 24-20 to approve the bill.
The other bill, by Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., will require a government report of all times in the last five years, a federal agency urged a social media company to remove or suppress or add disclaimers to legal speech. The committee voted 24-20 to approve the bill.
Here’s what we know about the legislation:
Why is House Oversight focusing on Twitter, other social media companies?
The two pieces of legislation come after a hearing earlier in February detailing how Twitter has temporarily blocked links to news about Hunter Biden’s laptop.
Republicans have argued that social media platforms should also suppress allegations of 2020 election fraud. and the origins of COVID-19 and treatments. Twitter and Facebook banned former President Donald Trump after the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, but his access has been restored.
Former Twitter executives testified that they met regularly during the 2020 presidential campaign with FBI officials who raised concerns about the posts, which the company decided to act on. Managers regret blocking links to a New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s laptop weeks before the 2020 election, but said they had been warned of possible Russian hacking and disinformation.
“It is inappropriate and dangerous for the federal government to decide what legal speech is allowed on a private sector platform,” Comer said. “All Americans have the right to use these new and powerful communications technology resources to share their views and opinions without Uncle Sam putting his thumb on the scale to sway the debate in one direction.”
The top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, said none of the witnesses said the FBI ordered Twitter to limit distribution of the story. But former President Donald Trump’s White House contacted the platform urging the removal of a 2019 tweet by celebrity Chrissy Teigen, witnesses said.
“Social media companies have a First Amendment right to set their own rules governing their own speech,” Raskin said.
The outlook for both Oversight bills is uncertain because of conflicting political goals between the Republican House and Democratic Senate. In general terms, Republicans argue that too much freedom of speech is limited, while Democrats argued the platforms should do more to combat misinformation.
Social media policing “huge problem” to the GOP or “a no-problem solution” to the Democrats
Republicans backed both pieces of legislation after complaining that social media sites have routinely blocked or suppressed conservative posts on topics such as the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., said anyone suggesting the virus started in a Chinese lab has been labeled conspiracy theorists, “nuts” and “xenophobes.” He cited social media platforms that discourage posts from doctors citing medical studies about masks not working.
“It’s a huge issue in my mind,” Biggs said.
Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., said people should be able to question masks, vaccines and what happened in hospitals without fear of being shut down, suspended and banned.
“Americans need to be able to ask these questions,” Boebert said. “They have the right to receive information about what is happening.”
But Democrats said there was no evidence in the committee’s recent Twitter hearing that FBI agents or others in the federal government had any influence on the platform’s decision to block links to the laptop’s history. Hunter Biden. Rep. Dan Goldman, D-N.Y., called the legislation “a solution without a problem.”
“This is not about the First Amendment,” said Rep. Melanie Stansbury, DN.M. “This is gaslighting.”
The committee approved the bills after rejecting half a dozen Democratic amendments along party lines. Among them was a proposal by Raskin to apply legislation to Congress, in addition to executive branch agencies. Representative Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., proposed to allow national security workers to transmit information about threats such as disinformation about elections.
“If we don’t adopt this amendment, this becomes the Putin Protection Act,” Raskin said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The alleged suppression of conservatives is a focus of House GOP
Legislation is part of it House Republican oversight of the Biden administration which lawmakers said was neglected while Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. Republicans have focused on social media companies in their initial questions.
In addition to legislation in the Oversight and Foreign Affairs, the head of the Judiciary Committee, Representative Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, named the top executives of five companies – Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Meta – to ask about the alleged suppression of conservatives.
Jordan is seeking information on whether the FBI or other agencies have urged private companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Google’s YouTube to steer users away from conservative content or drop conservative users.
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This article originally appeared in USA TODAY: Hunter Biden, COVID-19: Why House GOP is focusing on Twitter