Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz on Tuesday pressed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about perceived anti-conservative bias at Facebook, peppering him with questions that had many on the right applauding on social media.
In his five minutes of allotted questions, Cruz asked about Facebook's perception of its own neutrality, the alleged suppression of conservative stories from Facebook's Trending News bar, the firing of Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, and the political views of the platform's content moderators.
"Are you a First Amendment speaker expressing your views, or are you a neutral public forum allowing everyone to speak?" Cruz asked of Facebook's role.
"There is certain content that we do not allow: hate speech, terrorist content, nudity, anything that makes people feel unsafe in the community," Zuckerberg replied. "From that perspective, we generally try to refer to what we do as a platform for all ideas."
Zuckerberg added that "our goal is certainly not to engage in political speech."
But Cruz countered that "a great many Americans" worried that Facebook was silencing conservative viewpoints. He cited a Gizmodo report in 2016 in which unnamed former contractors who worked on Facebook's Trending News product said they often suppressed conservative news stories.
After reading a list of conservative pages banned from Facebook, Cruz asked Zuckerberg if he was aware of any pages that had been banned from high-profile liberal institutions such as Planned Parenthood and MoveOn.org.
Zuckerberg said he was "not specifically aware" of any, and Cruz then asked if he knew the political affiliations of any of the 15,000 to 20,000 people working on "content review and security" at Facebook, implying that they would also be biased against conservative viewpoints.
Zuckerberg said that Facebook does not ask prospective employees and contractors about their political affiliations, which would be illegal in California, where the company is based.
Cruz also asked about Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus, which makes virtual reality headsets. He wanted to know why, shortly after a report emerged that he founded a pro-Trump meme-making nonprofit, he was fired from Facebook. Zuckerberg said Luckey's departure had nothing to do with his political views. Luckey donated $5,400 to Cruz's campaign in 2017.
Cruz did not ask about Cambridge Analytica, the political consulting firm that had access to the personal data of 87 million Facebook users, prompting the scandal over data privacy. His campaign paid the firm $5.8 million from July 2015 to June 2016, just $100,000 less than President Trump’s, according to the Center for Responsive Politics's database of campaign contributions.
Facebook and Cruz's office did not immediately respond to requests for further comment.
Meanwhile, conservatives on Twitter celebrated Cruz's questions.
Donald Trump Jr. tweeted, "Wow. Credit where credit is due, at least someone finally acknowledges the left wing bias at these social platforms. Now, the real questions is will they actually do anything about it?"
It's worth noting that Zuckerberg answered quite a few questions with, "That's a fair concern" during his hearing.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also joined in the praise.
Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale said, "Senator Ted Cruz is right. Why @DiamondandSilk? Why the attack on conservative voices?"
Right-wing commentators Bill Mitchell and Mike Cernovich also jumped in with praise for Cruz.
Cruz later tweeted that he "did not get an answer" about banned liberal groups from the Facebook CEO.
Here's most of the exchange between Cruz and Zuckerberg:
Cruz: "Does Facebook consider itself a neutral public forum? ... Are you a First Amendment speaker expressing your views, or are you a neutral public forum allowing everyone to speak?"
Zuckerberg: "Senator, here's how we think about this. I don't believe that we — there is certain content that we do not allow: hate speech, terrorist content, nudity, anything that makes people feel unsafe in the community. From that perspective, that's why we generally try to refer to what we do as a platform for all ideas —"
Cruz: "Let me try, because the time is constrained. ... The predicate for Section 230 under the CDA is that you are a neutral public forum. Do you consider yourself a neutral public forum, or are you engaged in political speech, which is your right under the First Amendment?" (Editor's note: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act does not require tech platforms to act as neutral public forums, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.)
Zuckerberg: "Well, senator, our goal is certainly not to engage in political speech. I'm not familiar with the specific legal language of the law that you speak to, so I would need to follow up with you on that. I'm just trying to lay out how I broadly think about this.
Cruz: "Well, Mr. Zuckerberg, I'll say 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. There have been numerous instances with Facebook. In May of 2016 Gizmodo reported that Facebook had purposefully and routinely suppressed conservative stories from Trending News, including stories about CPAC, Mitt Romney, the Lois Lerner IRS scandal, Glenn Beck. In addition, Facebook has initially shut down the Chic-fil-A Appreciation Day page, blocked a post of a Fox News reporter, blocked over two dozen Catholic pages, and most recently has blocked Trump supporters Diamond and Silk's page with 1.2 million Facebook followers after determining their content and brand was 'unsafe to the community.' To a great many Americans, that appears to be a pervasive pattern of political bias. Do you agree with that assessment?"
Zuckerberg: "Senator, let me say a few things about this. First, I understand where that concern is coming from because Facebook and the tech industry are located in Silicon Valley, which is an extremely left-leaning place. This is actually a concern that I have and I try to root out at the company: making sure we don't have any bias in the work that we do. I think it's a fair concern that people would at least wonder about."
Cruz: "Let me ask you this: Are you aware of any ad or page that has been taken down from Planned Parenthood?"
Zuckerberg: "Senator, I'm not, but can I finish —"
Cruz: "How about MoveOn.org?"
Zuckerberg: "I'm sorry?"
Cruz: "How about MoveOn.org?"
Zuckerberg: "I'm not specifically aware of those cases."
Cruz: "How about any Democratic candidate for office?"
Zuckerberg: "I'm not specifically aware. I'm not sure."
Cruz: "In your testimony, you say you have 15,000–20,000 people working on security and content review. Do you know the political orientation of those 15,000–20,000 people engaged in content review?"
Zuckerberg: "No Senator, we do not generally ask people about their political orientation when they're joining the company."
Cruz: "So as CEO have you ever made hiring or firing decisions based on political positions or what candidates they supported?"
Cruz: "Why was Palmer Luckey fired?"
Zuckerberg: "That is a specific personnel matter that it seems it would be inappropriate to discuss here."
Cruz: "You just made a specific representation that you didn't make decisions based on political views."
Zuckerberg: "Well, I can commit that it was not because of a political view."
Cruz: "Do you know, of those 15,000–20,000 people engaged in content review, how many, if any, have ever supported, financially, a Republican candidate for office?"
Zuckerberg: "Senator, I do not know that."
Cruz: "Your testimony says, 'It is not enough that we just connect people. We have to make sure those connections are positive. We have to make sure people aren't using their voice to hurt people or spread misinformation. We have a responsibility not just to build tools but to make sure those tools are used for good.' Mr. Zuckerberg, do you feel it's your responsibility to assess users whether they are good and positive connections or ones that those 15,000–20,000 people deem unacceptable or deplorable?"
Zuckerberg: "Senator, are you asking about me personally?"
Zuckerberg: "Senator, I think there are a number of things that we would all agree are clearly bad. Foreign interference in our elections, terrorism, self-harm—"
Cruz: "I'm talking about censorship."
Zuckerberg: "Well, I think that you would probably that we should remove terrorist propaganda from the service. That, I agree, is clearly bad activity that we want to get down, and we're generally proud of how well we do with that. Now, what I can say, and I do want to get this in before the end, is that I'm very committed to making Facebook a platform for all ideas. That is a very important founding principle of what we do, and we're proud of the discourse and the different ideas that people can share on the service, and that is something that, as long as I'm running the company, I'm going to be committed to making sure is the case."