Opinion: Lots of complaints, but few answers in Congress on Big Tech

Everyone in Congress seems to have a beef with Big Tech these days, as lawmakers have been swatting social media companies like a birthday party piñata.

After several weeks focused on the foibles of Facebook, Senators expanded their discontent this week to include YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat, pressing them to do more to safeguard their users — especially children.

“There is a world of self-harm video on your site,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., told an official from YouTube at a Senate hearing.

The Tennessee Republican then turned her fire on Snapchat, referring to it as, “the app of choice for sexual predators.”

Each party has different ideas on how social media companies should protect kids — but there’s no groundswell behind any one legislative resolution.

Maybe the bigger problem for Congress is once you get past how social media sites deal with children, the two parties go very different ways.

The argument often seems to boil down to this: Republicans are convinced that every Big Tech company is censoring conservative views.

Meanwhile, Democrats are convinced that every social media giant is turning a blind eye to crazy conservative conspiracy theories.

And much of it comes back to the 2020 election.

A year ago, Republicans adeptly used social media to spread a host of bogus vote claims in Georgia and other states, echoing Donald Trump’s false charges of election fraud that continue in 2021.

The day after the 2020 election, U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Greensboro, was unhappy that Twitter was blocking unsubstantiated claims that sinister vote swings had occurred for Joe Biden.

“Twitter is censoring these 3 tweets raising concerns about a mysterious dump of @JoeBiden ballots last night,” the Georgia Republican tweeted, spreading a claim of vote fraud that was easily debunked.

Democrats contend not enough was done by Facebook to crack down on the ‘Stop the Steal’ movement — which amplified Donald Trump’s false charges of a stolen election and culminated in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

So far, the weapon of choice for Democrats has been jawboning Big Tech — publicly pressing social media sites like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook to deal with false content.

To some extent, it’s worked.

“On COVID misinformation, we’ve removed over a million videos,” a YouTube official told Senators on Tuesday.

Republicans see things very differently.

U.S. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., argued this week that most Big Tech workers are ‘hysterically anti-conservative’ — more than ready to get rid of content backed by the GOP.

Big Tech companies — especially Facebook — certainly face a rough road ahead in Congress, but with the two parties disagreeing about what’s wrong, it’s hard to see any bipartisan agreement on a legislative response.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and the Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com