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Ted Cruz grills Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey over the ability to influence elections

Wednesday's Big Tech hearing on Capitol Hill examines whether or not tech giants should be given liability protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

Video Transcript

TED CRUZ: The three witnesses we had before this committee today collectively pose, I believe, the single greatest threat to free speech in America and the greatest threat we have to free and fair elections. Yesterday I spent a considerable amount of time speaking with both Mr. Zuckerberg and Mr. Pichai. I have concerns about the behavior of both of their companies. I would note that Facebook is at the minimum at least trying to make some efforts in the direction of defending free speech. I appreciate their doing so.

Google, I agree with the concerns that Senator Klobuchar raised. I think Google has more power than any company on the face of the planet, and the antitrust concerns are real, the impact of Google is profound, and I expect we will have continued and ongoing discussions about Google's abuse of that power and its willingness to manipulate search outcomes to influence and change election results. But today, I want to focus my questioning on Mr. Dorsey and on Twitter. Because of the three players before us, I think Twitter's conduct has by far been the most egregious. Mr. Dorsey, does Twitter have the ability to influence elections?


TED CRUZ: You don't believe Twitter has any ability to influence elections.

JACK DORSEY: No, we are one part of a full spectrum of communication channels that people have.

TED CRUZ: So you are testified to this committee right now that Twitter, when it silences people, when it censors people, when it blocks political speech, that has no impact on elections?

JACK DORSEY: People have a choice of other communication channels with which--

TED CRUZ: Not if they don't hear information. If you don't think you have the power to influence elections, why do you block anything?

JACK DORSEY: Well, we have policies that are focused on making sure that more voices on the platform are possible. We see a lot of abuse and harassment which ends up silencing people and having them leave from the platform.

TED CRUZ: All right, Mr. Dorsey, I found your opening questions-- or opening answers absurd on their face. Let's talk about the last two weeks in particular. As you know, I have long been concerned about Twitter's pattern of censoring and silencing individual Americans with whom Twitter disagrees. But two weeks ago, Twitter, and to a lesser extent, Facebook, crossed a threshold that is fundamental in our country.

Two weeks ago, Twitter made the unilateral decision to censor "The New York Post" in a series of two blockbuster articles both alleging evidence of corruption against Joe Biden, the first concerning Ukraine, the second concerning communist China. And Twitter made the decision, number one, to prevent users, any user from sharing those stories. And number two, you went even further and blocked "The New York Post" from sharing on Twitter its own reporting. Why did Twitter make the decision to censor "The New York Post?"

JACK DORSEY: We had a hack materials policy that we--

TED CRUZ: When was that policy adopted?

JACK DORSEY: In 2018, I believe.

TED CRUZ: In 2018. Go ahead, what was the policy?

JACK DORSEY: So the policy is around limiting the spread of materials that are hacked. We do not want Twitter to be a distributor for hack materials. We found that "The New York Post," because it showed the direct materials, screenshots of the direct materials, and it was unclear how those were obtained, that it fell under this policy. Now--

TED CRUZ: So in your view, if it's unclear the source of a documented-- in this instance, "The New York Post" documented what it said the source was, which it said it was a laptop owned by Hunter Biden that had been turned into a repair store. So they weren't hiding what they claimed to be the source. Is it your position that Twitter, when you can't tell the source, blocks press stories?

JACK DORSEY: No, not at all. Our team made a fast decision. The enforcement action, however, of blocking URLs both in tweets and in DM, in direct messages, we believe was incorrect, and we changed it within 24 hours.

TED CRUZ: Today, right now, "The New York Post" is still blocked from tweeting two weeks later.

JACK DORSEY: Yes, they have to log into their account, which they can do at this minute, delete the original tweet, which fell under our original enforcement actions, and they can tweet the exact same material to the exact same article, and it would go through.

TED CRUZ: So Mr. Dorsey, your ability is you have the power to force a media outlet-- and let's be clear, "The New York Post" isn't just some random guy tweeting, "The New York Post" has the fourth highest circulation of any newspaper in America, "The New York Post" is over 200 years old, "The New York Post" was founded by Alexander Hamilton, and your position is that you can sit in Silicon Valley and demand of the media that you can tell them what stories they can publish, and you can tell the American people what reporting they can hear. Is that right?

JACK DORSEY: No. This was a, you know, every person, every account, every organization that signs up to Twitter agrees to a terms of service. A terms of service is how--

TED CRUZ: So media outlets must genuflect and obey your dictates if they wish to be able to communicate with readers. Is that right?

JACK DORSEY: No, not at all. You know, we recognized an error in this policy, and specifically the enforcement--

TED CRUZ: You're still blocking their posts. You're still blocking their posts. Right now today you're blocking their posts.

JACK DORSEY: We're not blocking the post. Anyone can tweet.

TED CRUZ: Can "The New York Post" post on their Twitter account?

JACK DORSEY: If they go into their account--

TED CRUZ: No is your answer to that. No. Unless they genuflect and agree with your dictates. Let me ask you something, you claimed it was because of a hacked materials policy. I find that facially highly dubious and clearly employed in a deeply partial way. Did Twitter block the distribution of "The New York Times" story a few weeks ago that purported to be based on copies of President Trump's tax returns?

JACK DORSEY: We didn't find the a violation of our terms of service and this policy in particular, because it was reporting about the material. It wasn't distributing the material.

TED CRUZ: OK, well, that's actually not true. They posted what they purported to be original source materials, and federal law, federal statute makes it a crime, a federal felony to distribute someone's tax returns against their knowledge. So that material was based on something that was distributed in violation of federal law, and yet Twitter gleefully allowed people to circulate that. But when the article was critical of Joe Biden, Twitter engaged in rampant censorship and silencing.

JACK DORSEY: And again, we recognized errors in that policy. We changed it within 24 hours. This is--

TED CRUZ: But you're still blocking "The New York Post." You haven't changed it.

JACK DORSEY: We have changed it. They can log into their account, delete the original tweet that was--

TED CRUZ: You forced a "Politico" reporter to take down his post about "The New York Post" as well. Is that correct?

JACK DORSEY: Within that 24 hour period, yes. But we, as the policy has changed, anyone can tweet--

TED CRUZ: So Twitter takes the view you can censor "The New York Post," you can censor "Politico," presumably, you can censor "The New York Times" or any other media outlet. Mr. Dorsey, who the hell elected you and put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report and what the American people are allowed to hear, and why do you persist in behaving as a Democratic super PAC silencing views to the contrary of your political beliefs?

- Let's give Mr. Dorsey a few seconds to answer that, and then we have to conclude this segment.

JACK DORSEY: We're not doing that, and this is why I opened this hearing with calls for more transparency. We realize we need to earn trust more, we realize that more accountability is needed to show our intentions and to show the outcome.

- Thank you, Senator.

JACK DORSEY: So I hear the concerns and acknowledge them, but we want to fix it with more [INAUDIBLE].