Internet personalities Diamond and Silk accused Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg of trying to influence the presidential election in 2016 by censoring their posts supporting then-candidate Donald Trump.
Lynnette "Diamond" Hardaway and Rochelle "Silk" Richardson testified before the House Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday examining how social media sites filter content.
"Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress and stated that the most important thing he cared about was making sure no one interferes in the 2018 elections," Hardaway told the committee. "But after doing our research we wondered if Mark Zuckerberg was using Facebook to interfere in the 2018 elections by labeling users' accounts as either Liberal, Very Liberal, Moderate, Conservative or Very Conservative."
The two African-American Trump supporters, who have gained a following among Republicans, came to Capitol Hill on Thursday to tell their story and to help members of the committee understand the effects of what they say were attempts to silence conservative voices on Facebook and other social media sites.
"Facebook along with other social media sites have taken aggressive actions to silence conservative voices such as ourselves by deliberately restricting and weaponizing our page with algorithms that censored and suppress our free speech," Hardaway said in her testimony.
The sisters from North Carolina, who before taking interest in Trump had been Democrats, say Facebook had misclassified their page and used algorithms to suppress it on the platform. Specifically, they say Facebook had incorrectly labeled their page as "very liberal," which meant their page didn't surface on pages of their conservative fans and resulted in them not being able to attract advertising from marketers trying to reach conservatives.
"We've also noticed how someone with a liberal point of view that spewed hate against the president can garner up to 19 million views with only 539,000 followers, yet we have 1.2 million followers and only received 13,000 views on our video," she continued.
A closer look at how Facebook's advertising works shows that Facebook classifies pages based on people's activities on the platform. People can also remove themselves from any category at any time by checking a box in the ad preference setting.
While not a household name, the duo has more than 1.4 million followers on Facebook. Their YouTube channel, The Viewers View, boasts more than 142,000 subscribers. Their Twitter account has 641,000 followers and is one of just 45 . But the sisters came to greater prominence earlier this month when several lawmakers asked him about censoring the page.
Zuckerberg said his team had made an "enforcement error."
Facebook, Twitter and Google were invited to testify at the hearing, but declined.
Diamond and Silk and the money trail
At various points during the hearing, things got heated as Democrats questioned Diamond and Silk about how they monetized their activities on Facebook and whether they were paid by the Trump campaign. At least three times, the duo stated under oath they hadn't been paid by the 2016 presidential campaign.
"We have never been paid by the Trump campaign," Hardaway told Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Texas.
But federal campaign finance filings show they were paid more than $1,200 as "field consultants."
Later the two admitted to Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat from New York, that they'd been reimbursed for airfare after traveling to a campaign event. But they insisted they'd never been paid for consulting.
"We are familiar with that particular lie. We can see that you do look at fake news," said Richardson said when questioned by Jeffries, who brought up the FEC filing.
"I'm just trying to figure out who is lying here," he said.
The hearing comes as Republicans in Congress and conservatives on media outlets like Fox News complain of perceived bias among social media and technology companies. They say these sites allow and even promote postings for liberal causes while suppressing content from conservatives. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia, chastised Facebook, Google and Twitter for refusing to appear before the committee to explain their filtering practices.
"We know that these social media platforms remove content," he said. "As legitimate businesses, they must ensure that their services aren't being abused for illegal purposes such as fraud and identity theft. There is, however, a big difference between removing illegal activity and suppressing speech."
But other witnesses called to testify before the committee, including Ari Waldman, director of the New York Law School's Innovation Center for Law and Technology, said there was no pattern of these sites discriminating against any content.
Even if there was bias among these platforms, Rep. Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California, pointed out that Facebook and any other platform on the internet is free to promote or take down any content they like under the First Amendment of the Constitution. He called the hearing "ridiculous."
"The First Amendment applies to the government, not private companies," he said. "We don't tell Fox News what to filter. And we can't tell Facebook what content to filter. We can't force Facebook to carry Diamond and Silk if they don't want to."
First published, April 26, 9:05 a.m. PT.
Update, 10:16 a.m. PT: This story has been updated with additional information about Facebook advertising and comments from the hearing.
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