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U.S. Department of Justice looks into social media firms over free speech

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U.S. Department of Justice looks into social media firms over free speech
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By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Justice Department said on Wednesday it has convened a meeting with state attorneys general to discuss concerns that social media platforms were “intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas.”

Spokesman Devin O’Malley said the attorney general had convened the meeting 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.”

The statement did not name Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc but the companies have been criticized for what some see as an effort to exclude conservative voices.

In a hearing on Wednesday, Representative Greg Walden, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Twitter had made “mistakes” that, he said, minimized Republicans’ presence on the social media site.

“Multiple members of Congress and the chairwoman of the Republican Party have seen their Twitter presences temporarily minimized in recent months, due to what you have claimed was a mistake in the algorithm,” he said.

Representative Frank Pallone, the top Democrat on the committee, said he was worried that the Republicans were motivated by political concerns. “Over the past weeks, President Trump and many Republicans have peddled conspiracy theories about Twitter and other social media platforms to whip up their base and fundraise,” he said.

However, like Walden, Pallone acknowledged that Twitter’s ability to spread information quickly has a dark side, and said it and other social media companies must do more to regain and maintain public trust.

Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey said in his opening statement that Twitter took no political positions.

“We don’t consider political viewpoints, perspectives, or party affiliation in any of our policies or enforcement decisions. Period. Impartiality is our guiding principle,” he said.

President Donald Trump, without offering evidence, accused social media companies themselves of interfering in the upcoming U.S. mid-term elections, telling the Daily Caller that social media firms are “super liberal.”

Trump told the conservative outlet in an interview conducted on Tuesday that “I think they already have” interfered in the Nov. 6 election. The report gave no other details.

Justice Department spokesman O’Malley said that the department had monitored a hearing of a Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, where Facebook and Twitter executives defended their companies before skeptical lawmakers. Many members of Congress fault social media platforms for failing to combat foreign efforts to influence U.S. politics.

(Additional reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington and Shreyashi Sanyal in Bangalore; Editing by Chris Sanders, Lisa Shumaker and Susan Thomas)

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