NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — While speaking at the 2020 Conservative Political Action Conference Friday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California compared big tech censorship of conservatives to the “social score” system that the Chinese government uses to persecute political and religious dissidents.
McCarthy joined Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, Donald Trump Jr. and Amber Athey of Spectator USA in participating in a panel discussion on the “right path forward for big tech.”
The panel comes as conservatives have for years complained about how social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have censored their content or taken negative action against their accounts for voicing political or religious beliefs at odds with far-left and progressive viewpoints.
The social media giants have been accused of shadow banning and demonetizing conservatives' accounts as well as censoring posts they deem as hateful.
“Did you see what recently was leaked by Twitter, what they are going to do next?” McCarthy asked. “They are going to allow liberal activists to determine whether your [post] is harmful or not. It’s like China’s social scoring.”
McCarthy was referencing an NBC News report of a leaked Twitter demo suggesting that the platform is experimenting with a new feature that would label tweets from certain politicians or public figures as misinformation.
Under one iteration of the system, according to NBC News, Twitter users could earn “points” and a “community badge” if they “contribute in good faith and act like a good neighbor" as well as "provide critical context to help people understand the information they see."
Twitter’s demo used a McCarthy tweet from last September as an example.
“[Twitter] took an article I put up from The Federalist. They allowed these liberal activists to say this was harmful and wrong. Do you know why? Because we called out the whistleblower,” McCarthy explained. “Somehow that was wrong. They are letting these socialist ideas to be able to control what we are doing. That is what’s wrong. If they control so much of the market and they say, ‘it is just an algorithm,’ a human writes the algorithm.”
By comparison, China’s social credit system is a high-tech system that tracks citizens’ social actions and awards points based on whether their actions and beliefs are in line with the communist government.
The system utilizes advanced surveillance technology to track citizens’ behaviors.
In fact, religious freedom expert David Curry of Open Doors USA warned in January that China is creating a “system of persecution for the future” that can be sold to other authoritarian governments such as Iran.
“Did you know in China that if you are a citizen of China and you want to buy an airline ticket or a train ticket, you can have the money and you could go to the stand and what they say is, ‘Well, lets first look at your social score,’” McCarthy explained. “Everybody has a social score. It’s what you said and what the government thinks is right or wrong. That’s what they are training everybody else.”
“That is what they are trying to do on Twitter to us now with what we say [to determine if] it is right or wrong. And, they are letting the liberals decide it,” the 55-year-old congressman added. “More importantly, Google is now working with the Chinese government. I think Google now does not view itself as an American company. They think they are a company of the world.”
Hawley, a conservative attorney who was elected to office in 2018, criticized big tech giants for pursuing partnerships with the Chinese government to help it establish its state of extreme surveillance. He said Google was the “worst offender.”
“It really speaks to the fact that at heart that these companies have an authoritarian streak,” Hawley said. “They want to control our speech in this country. They want to control what we say and don’t say. In China, that’s their whole point of view. That’s what they want to do. It’s a natural fit.”
Trump, the oldest son of the president who has faced his own social media issues over the years, warned that big tech is working with the political left to “dictate” and “manipulate” culture.
“[B]ig tech is more comfortable working with China to allow them, a dictatorial regime, essentially to do whatever it is that they want with [users’ personal data],” Trump said. “But in America, they won’t give people who want to express their religious freedoms that same platform. It is truly scary. The dichotomy there is almost asinine.”
The panelists also criticized big tech companies for selling users’ personal data.
“Let’s put a fine point on what I think we have a right to demand from these big tech companies. That is you ought to be able to say: ‘I want all of my personal information back from Facebook or Google or whoever.’ And for your kids also,” Hawley said.
“I have two little boys at home. My wife and I think about this every day — what are these tech companies [doing] if my kids have toys that connect to the internet or they watch something on TV or they download a program on a tablet. You don’t think that Google and Facebook are keeping track of them. I want the right, as a parent, and you deserve the right to say, ‘I want my kid’s data back. I want it deleted. I want to control it. I want to raise my own kids, not big tech.’”
Hawley added that if people get “discriminated against” or “suppressed unfairly by social media companies they should have the ability to sue.
“We ought to be able to say, ‘We have rights here,’” Hawley said. “We ought to be able to say, ‘Why are you doing that?’”
Last year, Hawley proposed legislation that would remove the immunity that protects big tech companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google from liability for the content users post on their platforms.
Hawley’s bill would enable big tech companies to earn immunity if they show through audits that their algorithms and content removal policies are “politically neutral.”
“We got to get to a place where we say, ‘Listen, we want to be treated fairly,’” Hawley said. “Conservatives shouldn’t be shut out of the marketplace of ideas. We should not be shut down. Live Action should not be taken off of Facebook or censored on Twitter. We got to make sure that we get the fair treatment everybody else does.”
On Wednesday, a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Google-owned video-sharing platform YouTube can legally censor conservative content because it is not bound by the First Amendment because it is a private forum.