The Corner

Science & Tech

Josh Hawley Calls for Third-Party Audit of Twitter

Senator Josh Hawley (R, Mo.) on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. January 3, 2019 (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

In a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, freshman senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) called on the executive to allow a third-party audit of his social-media platform in light of recent accusations of bias against conservative users.

Hawley, who in just a few months in the Senate has already carved out a space for himself as a prominent conservative critic of big tech and social-media censorship, said in the letter that his request was prompted by Twitter’s recent confusing treatment of the account affiliated with the new movie Unplanned.

“Last week, Twitter suspend[ed] the account of the pro-life movie Unplanned—on opening weekend, no less—raising yet more questions about your supposed commitment to free speech,” Hawley wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained exclusively by National Review. “Just as bad, after you lifted the suspension, 99 percent of Unplanned’s followers mysteriously disappeared.”

The Twitter account affiliated with the new movie was indeed suspended over the weekend, and Twitter management told National Review at the time that the suspension was not due to any violation of platform rules. According to Twitter, the site’s system inaccurately linked the Unplanned account to another account that had violated the rules. After review, Twitter found the accounts weren’t in fact linked, and the suspension was lifted.

Twitter later told National Review that the issues with the account’s wildly shifting follower count and inability to retain followers were related to the earlier suspension and would take about 24 hours to stabilize.

According to Hawley, this incident was just the latest example of a longstanding problem. “Congress has given you a sweetheart deal—immunity from liability for illegal content posted by third parties—because tech companies like yours promised to provide ‘a forum for a true diversity of political discourse,’” the senator wrote in his letter. “Yet your company has repeatedly abused that privilege.”

The senator cited an instance in which Twitter refused to allow pro-life group Live Action to purchase ads, because the content was deemed “inflammatory” while allowing pro-abortion groups to advocate late-term abortion on the platform.

“I am rapidly losing confidence that Twitter is committed to the free speech principles that justify immunity under section 230. It is time for Twitter to prove it is truly committed to free speech: conduct a third-party audit and release the results to the public, in full,” Hawley added. His letter also noted that an internal audit would be “inherently biased.”

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