House Republicans will delve into claims of government censorship of online speech in a public hearing, asking Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to testify despite requests from outside groups to deinvite the Democratic presidential nominee after his recent anti-Semitic comments.
The Federal Government’s Select Subcommittee on Weapons, led by Republicans, will meet on Thursday. Republicans say conservatives are being unfairly targeted by tech companies that routinely work with the government to try to stop the spread of misinformation online.
Announcing the hearing, the panel led by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said it will “examine the role of the federal government in censoring Americans.”
The panel said it will investigate “Big Tech’s collusion with out-of-control government agencies to silence speech.”
The hearing comes after a federal judge recently tried to block the Biden administration from working with social media companies to monitor misinformation and other online posts. An appeals court temporarily halted the order.
Republicans are eager to elevate Kennedy, heir to the famous American political family, who in April announced his 2024 presidential campaign. The son of Bobby Kennedy and nephew of John F. Kennedy is mounting a long-shot Democratic primary challenge to President Joe Biden. He is ready to testify along with two other witnesses.
A watchdog group has asked panel chair Jordan to disinvite Kennedy after the Democratic presidential nominee falsely suggested that COVID-19 may have been “ethnicly targeted” to save Ashkenazi Jews and the Chinese people. .
In filmed comments first published by The New York Post, Kennedy said that “there is an argument” that COVID-19 “targets ethnic groups” and that it “targets certain races disproportionately.”
After the video was made public, Kennedy posted on Twitter that his words were misrepresented and denied suggesting that COVID-19 was deliberately designed to save Jews. He asked that the Post article be retracted.
But Kennedy has a history of comparing vaccines, widely credited with saving millions of lives, to the Holocaust genocide during Nazi Germany, comments for which he has sometimes apologized.
An organization Kennedy founded, Children’s Health Defense, currently has a lawsuit pending against several news organizations, including The Associated Press, accusing them of violating antitrust laws by taking steps to identify misinformation, including about COVID and COVID vaccines.
Jordan said that while he disagreed with Kennedy’s comments, he was unwilling to remove him from the panel. Speaker Kevin McCarthy was of a similar opinion, saying that he did not want to censure Kennedy.
The panel wants to investigate how the federal government works with technology companies to flag posts that contain false information or outright lies. Hanging over the debate is part of the federal communications law, Section 230, which protects technology companies like Twitter and Facebook from liability for what is said on their platforms.
Lawmakers on the panel are also expected to hear testimony from Emma-Jo Morris, a journalist for Breitbart News, who has reported extensively on Biden’s son, Hunter Biden; and D. John Sauer, a former attorney general in Missouri who is now a special assistant attorney general at the Louisiana Department of Justice involved in the lawsuit against the Biden administration.
Before the hearing, Morris tweeted part of her opening remarks in which she described an “elaborate censorship conspiracy” that she said was seeking to stop her reporting on Hunter Biden.
The United States has been hesitant to regulate the social media giants, even as outside groups warn of rising hate speech and misinformation that can be harmful to civil society.