Ted Cruz Would Like Some Good Attention Like Candace Owens Got
It would be hard to top the utter absurdity that was Tuesday's congressional hearing on White Nationalism getting thrown entirely off course by Candace Owens's denial of the existence of White Nationalism, but leave it to Ted Cruz to try. And, perhaps, succeed!
On Wednesday, Cruz led a hearing on "Stifling Free Speech: Technological Censorship and the Public Discourse" to make his case that social media companies are purposely discriminating against conservatives in an effort to suppress their viewpoints -- a particularly insipid conspiracy theory thoroughly undermined by the fact that neo-Nazi Richard Spencer still has a Twitter account. There is no actual proof of this being the case, no matter how many conservative Twitter users with under 100 followers scream that the only reason they do not get thousands of retweets is that they are "shadowbanned."
Just this past week, in fact, Media Matters released a study showing that, despite the unfounded claims of Diamond and Silk, right and left-leaning Facebook pages get about the same amount of engagement relative to their size.
For the first half of the hearing, Cruz invited back the same Twitter and Facebook execs who had appeared at Tuesday's hearing so that he, Mike Lee, and Marsha Blackburn could yell at them for supposedly being unfair to conservatives and Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono could be the lone voice of reason. What on earth he hoped to accomplish with this is unclear. He spent most of the hearing referring to various posts that had been taken down (and then after further review, put back up) and insisting that this is a thing that only happens to conservatives. Weird, because not too long ago, Facebook took one of our posts down because a bunch of TERFs went and reported an article I wrote about other TERFs going around harassing trans women. And we are pretty liberal, I would say. I also know of lots and lots of other liberal people and sites that have had posts taken down or who have been briefly suspended by Twitter or Facebook.
But these are the kind of facts Ted Cruz is not interested in hearing. The fact that these things happen to literally everyone, regardless of their political affiliation, doesn't matter to him. Perhaps he simply believes that by positioning conservatives as a group that is being unfairly discriminated against, they can garner the same kind of sympathy shown to groups that actually are discriminated against.
If you want to watch the whole trainwreck, the video is below. Or you can just check out my livetweeting of the first and second parts of the hearing from yesterday. You can also find the opening remarks of all the panel participants here.
Facebook, Twitter reps testify on censorship www.youtube.com
The first half was very, very long, so here is my dramatic interpretation of the whole thing:
Ted Cruz: Here is one example of a conservative having a post taken down on Facebook and/or Twitter. Do you mean to tell me that this does not absolutely prove that Facebook and Twitter are biased against conservatives? Is it not true that you have never taken down any post by any Democrat ever?
Twitter/Facebook: Here are several examples of Democrats getting their posts taken down, things are about equal, but the difference is that people on the Left do not send out a press release every time it happens and instead come and talk to us about why it was taken down.
Ted Cruz: But what about the time a CONSERVATIVE'S post was taken down? HUH?
Mazie Hirono: Here are several more examples of people on the Left getting their posts taken down, but actually can we please talk instead about how people who accused Sandy Hook parents of being crisis actors were NOT immediately banned? Because that was messed up. Also I am the only one here who cares to pronounce anyone's name correctly.
Marsha Blackburn: One time I had an advertisement taken down just because I accused Planned Parenthood of selling baby parts, because I am an idiot who does not care to look into how organ donation works. That was unfair!
Facebook/Twitter: We let you put your bad ad back up, even though you are a lying liar.
Mike Lee: Facebook briefly banned a post from the Susan B. Anthony Foundation just because it featured a 22-week-old baby with a bunch of tubes all over it and was supposedly a "graphic image." Would the same thing have happened if it came from someone other than a pro-life organization?
Mike Lee: Exact same question again, 20 times in a row.
Ted Cruz: Do you purposely censor conservatives?
Mike Lee: The corporate culture at Facebook and Twitter is liberal because Silicon Valley and until the corporate culture there is NOT liberal, these sites will be biased against conservatives.
Mazie Hirono: Yeah, remember that time some Facebook employees got in trouble for writing "All Lives Matter" over where people had written "Black Lives Matter" on their famous signature wall? Also that time HUD filed charges against Facebook for promoting discriminatory housing through digital redlining? I am not 100 percent convinced that this counts as a liberal corporate culture!
Ted Cruz: TELL ME AGAIN ABOUT WHY YOU WON'T LET ANY CONSERVATIVES POST ANYTHING ON FACEBOOK OR TWITTER!
The true highlight of the hearing, however, was the second half when Chuck Konzelman, the director of the Pureflix movie Unplanned (which tells the story of noted anti-choice activist and pathological liar Abby Johnson) and God's Not Dead, had a chance to speak. Cruz introduced him with all the professional restraint of a bobby-socked Beatles fan, gushing about how everyone, including those who are pro-choice, needs to see his terrible movie, and how he left a fabulously successful career in secular Hollywood to make Jesus movies.
Not all of us think of a straight-to-video movie in which Brian Krakow turns into an evil spider and Dan Aykroyd is involved somehow as fabulously successful, but your mileage may vary.
Earth Vs. the Spider (2001) Trailer (VHS Capture) www.youtube.com
Anyway! Konzelman started out, in this hearing about social media, whining about how his film got an "R" rating from the MPAA, meaning that no Mormons could go see it, by law, and several networks refused to air their ads -- including Lifetime, even though Lifetime has run pro-Planned Parenthood stuff before. I now feel even more validated about my Lifetime Movie Club subscription (if that is even possible). He says they have already complained about this to the FCC, which says directly on its website that "[e]xcept for certain classes of political advertisements, station licensees have full discretion to accept or reject any advertising." So that complaint should surely go somewhere.
The gist of his testimony was that THE ENTIRE WORLD conspired to prevent him from being able to promote his terrible movie. This is a rather interesting take in light of the fact that, unlike other film production companies, Pureflix does not generally send out screeners to secular critics or allow them to see their movies before they open.
Eventually, he gets to the reason he was there in the first place -- the fact that the Twitter account for Unplanned was briefly suspended before the movie opened.
In the early morning hours of Saturday, March 30th, the film's Twitter account – technically the account owned by the film's single purpose marketing entity – was suspended. The reason for the suspension has not – to the best of my knowledge – been made clear, beyond being 'accidental'. However when such 'accidents' occur within twelve hours of the film's theatrical debut – and after nine months of ownership, during which time there were zero suspensions – the 'glitch' is of course suspect.
Following his testimony, Ted Cruz gushed some more and the two of them went on and on and on about how this was obviously an evil plot on behalf of Twitter to ensure that no one went to go see his terrible movie, and how no one could possibly give them another explanation for what happened.
But TWIST, an explanation for what happened has been available since noon on March 30, mere hours after the account was briefly suspended:
According to Twitter, Unplanned was not suspended on purpose, but rather was linked to another account that had violated Twitter's rules. When one account violates those rules, the system then cracks down on linked accounts to mitigate the risk that the original banned account would simply move accounts. After reviewing this case a second time, Twitter decided the Unplanned account should not be affected by the other's suspension and restored it.
Yep. Rather than a nefarious plot to prevent people from going to see their movie, it was just a bot doing its job, and when the situation was resolved, the account was restored. No big! But rather than, I don't know, Googling to find out what happened, both Cruz and Konzelman decided it would be better to just randomly speculate.
And so it went. Despite a sociologist who had conducted a study on social media bias explaining to them the many ways in which they are full of shit, and a law professor explaining that even if it were true, it still would not be a violation of free speech because Twitter and Facebook are not the government and also that conservatives are free to use or create competing platforms, Cruz, Lee, and Blackburn would not be moved.
It is clear that no evidence exists that could convince any of these people that this conspiracy is all in their heads -- so really, it is in their best interest to just follow the advice of the law professor and just use another platform already.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse