Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, has been among the loudest voices complaining that tech companies “censor” people based on political views.
But it appears that what Hawley really wants is to censor online information himself. What's more, he has succeeded -- at least for now.
This week, Facebook removed information provided by fact checkers who debunked claims in two anti-abortion propaganda videos after receiving a complaint from Hawley and three other GOP Senators -- Ted Cruz (Texas), Kevin Cramer (North Dakota), and Mike Braun (Indiana).
The original videos, posted by the anti-abortion group Live Action, said abortion was never necessary.
But three doctors with Health Feedback, a fact-checker used by Facebook and certified by the International Fact Checking Network, said that claim was false. The doctors noted that medical conditions like placenta previa and preeclampsia can make abortion necessary in order to save the mother's life.
“While it is possible for early delivery to preserve both the life of the mother and child in the event of a life-threatening condition, as the video suggests, it does not mention that this is only applicable when a fetus’ gestational age is advanced enough that its survival outside the womb is possible,” the Health Feedback doctors stated. “In situations where a fetus has not developed sufficiently, it would not be possible for expedited delivery to save its life.”
Based on that information, Facebook flagged the Live Action videos as inaccurate, and notified people who shared the videos that the claims were false.
Hawley and the other lawmakers responded Wednesday by indignantly claiming that two of the three reviewing doctors -- all experts in obstetrics and gynecology -- were “biased.”
“Your company, like Twitter, Google, Pinterest and so many other major Silicon Valley social media firms, has been repeatedly confronted with evidence of bias against those with conservative viewpoints, especially on the issue of abortion,” the senators said in a letter sent to Facebook Wednesday.
Right-wing lawmakers have repeated similar claims many times, despite the lack of evidence of systemic bias against conservative content.
After receiving the lawmakers' letter, Facebook removed the Health Feedback fact-check pending further review.
A Facebook spokesperson says the company has been in contact with the International Fact Checking Network, which is investigating “whether the fact checkers who rated this content did so by following procedures designed to ensure impartiality.”
It's worth noting that almost exactly one year ago, Facebook was under fire for demoting a Think Progress piece about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's views on abortion. That piece carried the headline, "Brett Kavanaugh said he would kill Roe v. Wade last week and almost no one noticed."
The Think Progress article argued that Kavanaugh's answers during confirmation hearings, combined with his prior statements about Constitutional rights, demonstrate that he would overturn the decision.
The right-wing Weekly Standard, one of Facebook's fact-checkers, flagged the article as false because Kavanaugh never literally stated he would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.