Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg didn't just face questions about privacy during this week's hearings on Capitol Hill. Some GOP members also took the opportunity to criticize Zuckerberg for something else entirely -- Facebook's supposed censorship of conservative-leaning posts.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was among the most vocal of Facebook's accusers. "There are a great many Americans who I think are deeply concerned that Facebook and other tech companies are engaged in a pervasive pattern of bias and political censorship," Cruz told Zuckerberg.
Facebook "has blocked a post of a Fox News reporter, has blocked over two dozen Catholic pages, and most recently blocked Trump supporters Diamond and Silk's page, with 1.2 million Facebook followers," Cruz continued. "To a great many Americans that appears to be a pervasive pattern of political bias."
Zuckerberg acknowledged the concern, saying that Silicon Valley "is an extremely left-leaning place." But, he added, he tries to make sure "we do not have any bias in the work that we do."
But GOP members like Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee) and Billy Long (Missouri) continued to grill Zuckerberg about the topic, particularly Facebook's treatment of "Diamond and Silk" -- the stage names of African-American siblings Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, who are known for promoting President Trump in their YouTube videos. Last week, they said their videos had been deemed "unsafe" by Facebook.
Zuckerberg told lawmakers the decision about Diamond and Silk was an "enforcement error" that the company was reversing.
It's worth noting that some conservatives have accused other Silicon Valley companies of anti-conservative bias. Last year, for instance, Prager University sued Google for allegedly discriminating against conservative clips on YouTube. U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California recently threw out that case, ruling that Google is a private business and is therefore free to treat content on its platform however it wishes.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai also has criticized Silicon Valley companies, including Twitter, for allegedly showing bias against conservatives.
"To say the least, the company appears to have a double standard when it comes to suspending or de-verifying conservative users’ accounts as opposed to those of liberal users," Pai said last year, referring to Twitter. Among other examples, Pai said that Twitter flagged an AT&T blog post about its views on net neutrality as potential spam and prevented users from re-tweeting it. Twitter said the block was caused by a glitch.
At this week's hearings, Cruz made the astonishing suggestion that Facebook could lose protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act -- a law that shields websites from liability for illegal content posted by users -- if it fails to act in a neutral manner.
"The predicate for Section 230 immunity under the CDA is that you're a neutral public forum. Do you consider yourself a neutral public forum, or are you engaged in political speech?," the senator asked.
Zuckerberg said that the company's goal was not "to engage in political speech." He added that he was unfamiliar with the specific language of the Communications Decency Act.
People who are more familiar with the law's language say there is no doubt Cruz was wrong.
"Online platforms are within their First Amendment rights to moderate their online platforms however they like, and they’re additionally shielded by Section 230 for many types of liability for their users' speech," the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes. "It’s not one or the other. It’s both."