A hearing held by the House Oversight Committee on Twitter’s choice to temporarily restrict the New York Post‘s story on Hunter Biden’s laptop has highlighted once again just how feckless Congress really is at tackling deep problems within big tech.
Instead of focusing on the larger concerns relevant to companies like Twitter having untoward power over its users and the discourse at large, Republicans and Democrats repeatedly changed topics to gain political points by highlighting unrelated political issues.
While the hearing initially started about Biden’s laptop and Twitter’s drastic decision to halt sharing on it in the run-up to the 2020 election, Democrats quickly shifted to discussing the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Then, at other points during the hearing, Republicans pivoted to express their anger over Twitter’s decision to combat what it labeled as COVID misinformation.
While grilling Twitter’s former Chief Legal Officer Vijaya Gadde, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) angrily reprimanded the platform for enforcing what she saw as a misguided COVID misinformation policy before outlining alleged health issues from the COVID vaccine.
“I have great regrets about getting the shot,” Mace said, in a hearing titled: ‘Protecting Speech from Government Interference and Social Media Bias, Part 1: Twitter’s Role in Suppressing the Biden Laptop Story.”
“I find it extremely alarming that Twitter’s unfettered censorship spread into medical fields and affected millions of Americans by suppressing expert opinions from doctors and censoring those who disagree with the CDC,” she said. “I have great regrets about getting the shot because of the health issues that I now have that I don’t think are ever going to go away.”
Rep. James Raskin (D-Md.) changed the topic shortly after to the prevalence of Russian bots on Twitter—a concern from all the way back in 2016—while arguing that the entire hearing should be focused on that instead.
Raskin also repeatedly focused on the violent rhetoric made by supporters of former President Donald Trump in the run-up to Jan. 6
Another official wanted to know if Trump demanded Twitter remove tweets by Chrissy Teigen about him.
While individually these topics may be important and related to Twitter, the inability of Congress to focus on the primary topic, even if complaints over Twitter’s temporary decision regarding the laptop are overblown, highlights the never-ending gridlock in Washington, D.C.
And that is to say nothing about the larger problems Congress ostensibly wants to tackle by reforming big tech, which seem as far away as they were at the onset of this hearing.
At least one attendee of the hearing, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), did appear to see the issues at play, although in her own speech she highlighted other concerns to tackle instead of big tech reform.
“A whole hearing about a 24-hour hiccup in a right-wing political operation. That is why we are here right now and it’s just an abuse of public resources and abuse of public time,” she said. “We could be talking about healthcare, we could be talking about bringing down the cost of prescription drugs, we could be talking about abortion rights, civil rights, voting rights, but instead were talking about Hunter Biden’s half-fake laptop story. I mean, this is an embarrassment but I’ll go into it.”