General Jeff Sessions is exploring a potential investigation of
social media companies and will be briefed on Sept. 25 by
Republican state attorneys general who are already examining the
firms’ practices, according to two people familiar with the
meeting -- which will include a representative of the Justice
Department’s antitrust division -- is intended to help Sessions
decide if there’s a federal case to be made against companies
such as Alphabet
Inc.’s Google, Facebook
Inc. for violating consumer-protection
or antitrust laws, the people said. They asked not to be
identified discussing the matter because of its sensitivity.
hasn’t made up his mind about whether to proceed, the people
said. At least one of the attorneys general participating in the
meeting has indicated he seeks to break up the companies.
Justice Department probe of the social media giants for
potentially improper business practices would likely trigger a
political firestorm. President Donald
Trump and congressional Republicans have
complained that Facebook, Google and Twitter have censored or
otherwise suppressed some conservatives.
Media is totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative
voices," Trump said on Twitter in August. “Speaking loudly and
clearly for the Trump Administration, we won’t let that happen.
They are closing down the opinions of many people on the RIGHT,
while at the same time doing nothing to others.”
social media companies have conceded that enforcement actions
against prohibited speech incorrectly targeted both conservative
and liberal voices on their platforms. It isn’t clear which
conservatives Trump is concerned about.
of Facebook and Twitter fell as much as half a percent in
aftermarket trading on the news. Both companies declined to
comment on the Sessions meeting.
more about how Washington could really unfriend Facebook
Sept. 25 briefing will include the attorneys general from
Alabama, Nebraska, Tennessee, Louisiana and Texas. It wasn’t
immediately clear how far their inquiries have gotten or how
coordinated they are. States have the authority to investigate
anti-competitive conduct and deceptive practices by companies.
Attorney General Jeff Landry looks forward to hearing from
Sessions and other states about “what the next steps may be,”
according to Ruth Wisher, a spokeswoman for Landry.
said in an interview last week with a Shreveport radio station
that he’s “extremely concerned” about data collection by Google,
Facebook and Twitter and the supposed suppression of
conservative viewpoints. He added that he’s “thrilled” by the
Justice Department’s interest.
are the kind of resources that we’re going need to break these
companies up,” Landry said in the interview with KEEL News Radio
710. “The problem is they’ve got no competition.”
on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Arizona Attorney General Mark
Brnovich said his office had retained outside counsel to assist
in a long-running consumer fraud investigation over tracking of
consumers’ locations through smartphones even when they disabled
we cannot confirm the company or companies at the center of this
probe, we decided to move forward and retain outside counsel
after a series of troubling news reports, including a recent
story that highlighted Google’s alleged tracking of consumer
movements even if consumers attempt to opt out of such
services," said the spokeswoman, Katie Conner.
whose office also said it was not aware of an invitation to the
Justice Department meeting, hired a Washington firm with ties to
year, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley opened an antitrust investigation into
whether Google manipulated search results to benefit its own
products and whether it scrapes information without permission
from competitors. A spokeswoman for the office declined to
comment on whether it’s participating in the meeting with
Justice Department announced earlier this month that Sessions
“has convened a meeting with a number of state attorneys general
this month to discuss a growing concern that these companies may
be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free
exchange of ideas on their platforms.”
reason Sessions decided to meet with the state officials is to
determine if they have any evidence of bias against
conservatives by the social media companies. The announcement
created some confusion, as several attorneys general, including
Democrats, have expressed an interest in attending the meeting.
department is now considering whether to open up the briefing to
more attorneys general or holding a separate, bigger meeting.
The White House is also considering whether it should hold a
meeting instead of the Justice Department.
Republicans have kept up their pressure on the tech companies.
On Tuesday, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the
House majority leader, said in a tweet that "an invite will be
on its way" and castigated Google for not sending a top
executive to a recent Senate hearing.
companies have said they don’t censor any perspectives. Rather,
they say, much of the alleged censorship results from the sites’
policies against threats, hate, harassment or other forms of
social media sites have conceded that enforcement actions have mistakenly targeted
conservatives who are following company guidelines, such as
Twitter’s moves in July to limit the visibility of some
Republicans in profile searches.
sites say they have undone most of these practices, labeling
them rare mistakes among millions of daily content decisions.
The enforcement activity also affected liberals and even the
companies’ own executives, they say.
conservative social media personalities known as “Diamond and
Silk,” Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, testified at a
congressional hearing in April that their Facebook page was
deemed "dangerous” by the company. Facebook said the
determination was in error and hired former Arizona Senator Jon
Kyl to advise it on potential anti-conservative bias.
called Hardaway and Richardson “terrific people who are doing
really well” in a Sept 8. tweet. Kyl was appointed last week to
serve out the term of the late Senator John McCain.
Pew Research Center survey earlier this year found that majorities
of Republicans say major technology
companies favor the views of liberals over conservatives and
believe that social media companies censor political viewpoints
they find objectionable.
percent of Americans, and 85 percent of Republicans, think it’s
likely that social media companies intentionally censor
political viewpoints that those companies find objectionable.
if censorship were proven, it would likely be protected under
the First Amendment, which only restrains the government from
In that case, though, the companies could be accused of
deceptive practices for having asserted that they don’t engage
in political censorship.
With assistance by Ben Brody, and Steven T. Dennis