On April 10, the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution held a hearing regarding alleged censorship of conservative views by sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Facebook and Twitter were present on the first panel, but Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) rejected Google’s representative and has instead called for a second hearing at a later date to discuss Cruz’s allegations that Google exercises bias against conservatives. On the second panel there were two familiar faces: Marilyn Musgrave, of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List [an organization whose failure to officially denounce criminalization of abortion is featured in our Stop Prosecuting Abortion campaign], and Chuck Konzelman, co-director of the anti-abortion film “Unplanned.” Questioning them were anti-abortion conservatives like Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who was initially denied ad space with Twitter last year after falsely claiming that Planned Parenthood was selling “baby body parts”— a dangerous lie that can be directly tied to clinic violence. The ad was later restored, despite pushback from Reproaction because the ad was in clear violation of Twitter’s policy.
This hearing is part of a trend that started heating up two years ago when anti-abortion groups claimed they were being censored by social media platforms. It continued last year, when the House held two hearings on the issue of alleged censorship against conservatives that focused on the claims of talking heads Diamond and Silk, as well as those of Sen. Marsha Blackburn. Over the past year, these claims have evolved to put more emphasis on the supposed censorship of anti-abortion content, conservative political views, and even ads for anti-abortion films; these claims do not have factual backing and in fact appear in stark contrast to a recent report by Media Matters that found that, in fact, 63 percent of links and 72 percent of posts on Facebook for abortion-related news came from conservative sources in April 2019.
During the April 10 hearing, despite evidence provided by some of the witnesses, the conservative members of the subcommittee continued to push claims of bias, with a particular focus on anti-abortion content. Sen. Blackburn and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) brought up Blackburn’s briefly blocked ad, and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Sen. Cruz both brought up briefly blocked content belonging to Susan B. Anthony List, which consisted of ads containing images Facebook’s algorithm deemed graphic, and which were restored within 24 hours. Much of the discussion, however, revolved around the alleged censorship of the anti-abortion film “Unplanned.” When introducing the second panel, Sen. Cruz took the time to encourage everyone present to watch the film; after the witnesses gave their testimony, Cruz again took the floor, explaining the entire plot of the film and essentially repeating the testimony of co-producer Chuck Konzelman, who claimed they were denied ad space on Google and most cable networks, ignored by the mainstream media, and censored by Twitter. Konzelman said it was “impossible for [him] to quantify the damage” done by the alleged media blackout shortly before he cited a Washington Post article about the film. (The Washington Post later released another article on the film, in which they mention the producers never invited them to a screening of the film.)
If these claims sound familiar, that’s because the producers of the anti-abortion film “Gosnell” made similar claims, debunked by Reproaction, when the film was released last October. What’s new and disturbing is a Senate subcommittee taking the time to investigate an anti-abortion movie’s Twitter account that was suspended for less than 24 hours. These extreme views have continued to invade the mainstream narrative, as evidenced by Trump’s use of violent, inflammatory, and misleading anti-abortion rhetoric at a recent rally in Wisconsin. As more anti-abortion legislation is passed and more anti-abortion judges are appointed, it becomes increasingly important to call out this kind of propaganda. Letting anti-abortion activists call Senate hearings any time they falsely play the victim isn’t just political theater. It’s part of a larger agenda to discredit platforms that aim to minimize deception and lies.