Posted on September 12, 2018

Sessions Open to Probe of Social Media Giants, Sources Say

Chris Strohm, Jennifer Jacobs, and David McLaughlin, Bloomberg, September 11, 2018

Attorney 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 matter.

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. and Twitter Inc. for violating consumer-protection or antitrust laws, the people said. {snip}

{snip} At least one of the attorneys general participating in the meeting has indicated he seeks to break up the companies.


Some 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.

Shares of Facebook and Twitter fell as much as half a percent in aftermarket trading on the news. {snip}

The 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.

Louisiana 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.

Landry {snip} supposed suppression of conservative viewpoints. He added that he’s “thrilled” by the Justice Department’s interest.


Separately 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 location services.


Last 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. {snip}


One 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.

The 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.


The 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 abusive speech.

The 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.


Two 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.


A 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.

Seventy-two 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.