SAN FRANCISCO — U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he will meet with several state attorneys general to discuss whether social media companies are “intentionally stifling” free speech and obstructing competition, the Department of Justice said Wednesday.
The remarks escalate recent charges of anti-conservative bias by President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers and followed Senate testimony by executives from Facebook and Twitter on foreign influence operations on social media. Last week Trump blasted Google, alleging it muzzles conservative voices.
“The Attorney General has convened a meeting with a number of state attorneys general this month to discuss a growing concern that these companies may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms,” the Department of Justice said in a statement.
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It is unclear which attorneys general will attend. Facebook and Twitter declined to comment on the remarks, which came minutes after the Senate hearing ended. At least three state attorneys general have agreed to participate, according to The Washington Post.
“We don’t consider political viewpoints, perspectives, or party affiliation in any of our policies or enforcement decisions. Period,” Twitter’s chief executive Jack Dorsey said during a second hearing, in the House, Wednesday, during which he repeatedly denied allegations his company is biased against the political right. “Impartiality is our guiding principle.”
Over the past year, censorship charges have become a conservative rallying cry, raised in multiple hearings on Capitol Hill. Now the attacks are ratcheting up, with some GOP leaders and now President Donald Trump using the hashtag #stopthebias to target left-leaning Silicon Valley ahead of the November midterm elections.
Why? The issues resonates with supporters whose opinion of social media has sunk to the level of mainstream media. A new poll from the Media Research Center conducted by McLaughlin & Associates found that 65 percent of self-described conservatives believe that social media companies intentionally censor the political right. Some Republicans have started using bias claims in fundraising pitches.
In an interview with the “Daily Caller,” Trump accused social media companies of tilting elections in favor of the Democrats. “The truth is they were all on Hillary Clinton’s side,” he said.
Google was represented at Wednesday’s Senate hearing by an empty chair next to Dorsey and Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. Alex Jones, founder of the far right conspiracy website Infowars, attended the hearing. Tech companies, including Apple and Facebook, removed Infowars content.