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Rogers Opening Statement at Hearing on Countering Terror Content Online

June 26, 2019

                    Rogers Opening Statement at Hearing on Countering Terror Content Online  

WASHINGTON – Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), House Homeland Security Committee ranking member, today delivered an opening statement at a hearing entitled “Examining Social Media Companies’ Efforts to Counter Online Terror Content and Misinformation.”

Concerns about violent and terror-related online content have existed since the creation of the Internet.  The issue has peaked over the past decade with the growing sophistication in which foreign terrorists and their global supporters have exploited the openness of online platforms to radicalize, mobilize, and promote their violent messages. 

These tactics proved successful – so much so that we are seeing domestic extremists mimic many of the same techniques to gather followers and spread hateful and violent propaganda. 

Public pressure has grown steadily on the social media companies to modify their terms of service to limit posts linked to terrorism, violence, criminal activity, and, most recently, to hateful rhetoric and misinformation.

The large, mainstream companies have responded to this pressure in a number of ways, including the creation of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, or GIFCT. They are also updating their terms of service and hiring more human content moderators. 

Today’s hearing is also an important opportunity to examine the Constitutional limits placed on the government to regulate or restrict free speech. 

Advocating violent acts and recruiting terrorists online is illegal.  But expressing one’s political views, however repugnant they may be, is protected under the First Amendment.

I was deeply concerned to hear news reports about Google’s policies regarding President Trump and conservative news media.

Google’s “Head of Responsible Innovation” Jen Gennai said recently, “Well all got screwed over in 2016…the people got screwed over, the news media got screwed over…everybody got screwed over so we’ve rapidly been like what happened there and how do we prevent it from happening again?”

Ms. Gennai then remarked: “Elizabeth Warren is saying that we should break up Google…That will not make it better it will make it worse because all these smaller companies that don’t have the same resources that we do will be charged with preventing the next Trump situation.”

Ms. Gennai is entitled to her opinion but we are in trouble if her opinions are Google’s policy.

That same report details alarming claims about Google’s deliberate attempt to alter search results to reflect the reality Google wants to promote rather than objective facts.

This report, and others like it, are a stark reminder of why the Founders created the First Amendment.

In fact, the video that I just quoted from has been removed from YouTube. That platform is owned by Google who is joining us here today.

I have serious questions about Google’s ability to be fair and balanced when it appears to have colluded with YouTube to silence this negative press coverage.

Regulating speech quickly becomes a subjective exercise for government or the private sector.

Noble intentions often give way to bias and political agendas.

The solution to this problem is complex. It will involve enhanced cooperation between government, industry, and individuals, while protecting the Constitutional rights of all Americans.

I appreciate our witness’ participation here today.  I hope that today’s hearing can be helpful in providing greater transparency and understanding of this complex challenge.