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Tech Industry

Senators ask FTC to look into how Facebook, Google and Twitter curate content

The tech giants "actively censor some content and amplify other content" and are "completely nontransparent," the senators argue.

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The FTC should share any information it finds that's "in the public interest," say the senators. 

Alastair Pike / AFP/Getty Images

US senators are asking the Federal Trade Commission to look into how major tech companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter curate content. Sens. Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, and Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, urged the FTC to investigate the companies' "censorship practices" in a letter on Monday.

"Big tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter exercise enormous influence on speech," the senators wrote. "The vast majority of internet traffic flows through just a handful of these companies. They control the ads we see, the news we read, and the information we digest. And they actively censor some content and amplify other content based on algorithms and intentional decisions that are completely nontransparent."

That influence grants tech giants "alarming and endless" opportunities for abuse, the senators argue. They add that their ability to control the content users see could allow companies to sway elections. 

Facebook and Google didn't immediately respond to a request for a comment. Twitter declined to comment.

The senators urge the FTC to use its section 6(b) authority, which allows the agency to force companies to share information needed for understanding their practices and conduct.

"Companies that are this big and that have the potential to threaten democracy this much should not be allowed to curate content entirely without any transparency," the senators write. "These companies can greatly influence democratic outcomes, yet they have no accountability to voters. They are not even accountable to their own customers because nobody knows how these companies curate content."

The FTC should share any information it finds that's "in the public interest," Hawley and Cruz said.

President Donald Trump has accused social media companies of being biased against conservatives. And the White House in May launched a website enabling people to report when they believe their social media accounts are banned due to political bias. In July 2018, representatives from Google, Facebook and Twitter told Congress that their companies have made mistakes regarding which content gets published, but denied any political bias. 

On Tuesday, tech giants will be the focus of two congressional hearings, one of which will center on antitrust issues -- namely, whether the companies have become so powerful that they need to be broken up.

Originally published July 15 at 2:22 p.m. PT.
Update, 5:03 p.m. PT: Adds that Twitter declined to comment.