On Wednesday, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) brilliantly grilled Derek Slater, Google Global Director of Information Policy, over revelations from a Project Veritas video of political bias at Google. Crenshaw’s questioning included his anger that according to the Project Veritas video, Google had referred to Daily Wire Editor-in Chief Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson and Dennis Prager as Nazis. Crenshaw snapped, “What kind of education do people at Google have so that they think that religious Jews are Nazis? Three of these people had family members killed in the Holocaust, Ben Shapiro is the number one target of the alt-right. And yet you people operate off the premise that he’s a Nazi.”
Crenshaw wasn’t finished with that; he fired off this missile: “When you label them, when one of the most powerful social media companies in the world labels people as Nazis, you could make the argument that’s inciting violence.” He concluded with a ringing denunciation, stating, “You do not have a constitutional obligation to enforce the First Amendment, but I would say that you absolutely have an obligation to enforce American values, and the First Amendment is an underpinning of American values that we should be protecting until the day we die.”
The exchange was so compelling that it is reprinted below:
Crenshaw: There’s good questions on whether some of this content provides education so that we know of the bad things out there or whether it’s radicalizing people. Those are hard. Those are hard discussions to have and I don’t know that we’re going to solve them today. But the problem is is that the testimony doesn’t stop there. The, the policies at your social media companies do not stop there. It doesn’t stop with the clear-cut lines of terrorism and terrorist videos and terrorist propaganda. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly what we’re talking about. It goes much further than that. It goes down the slippery slope of what speech is appropriate for your platform and the vague standards that you employ in order to decide what is appropriate.
And this is especially concerning given the recent news and the recent leaked emails from Google. They show that labeling mainstream conservative media as Nazis is a premise upon which you operate. It’s not even a question, according to those emails, the emails say, given that Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson and Dennis Prager are Nazis, given that that’s a premise, what do we do about it? Two of three of these people are Jewish, very religious Jews. And yet you think they are Nazis. It begs the question: what kind of education people at Google have so that they think that religious Jews are Nazis. Three of three of these people had family members killed in the Holocaust, Ben Shapiro is the number one target of the alt-right. And yet you people operate off the premise that he’s a Nazi. It’s pretty disturbing and it gets to the question, do you believe in hate speech? How do you define that or do you, can you give me a quick definition right now? Is it written down somewhere? Google, can you give me a definition of hate speech?
Slater: Yes. So hate speech again, as updated in our guidelines now extends to, uh, uh, superiority over protected groups to justify discrimination, violence, and so on based on, uh, a number of defining characteristics, whether that’s a race, sexual orientation, veteran status.
Crenshaw: Do you have an example of Ben Shapiro or Jordan Peterson, Dennis Prager engaging in hate speech? Give one example off the top of your head.
Slater: So, congressman, we evaluate individual piece of content based on that content rather than based on the speaker.
Crenshaw: Okay, let’s, let’s get to the next question. Do you believe speech can be violence? All right, though there’s, there’s not, not can you incite violence; that is very clearly not protected, but can speech just be violence? Do you believe that speech that isn’t specifically calling for violence can be labeled violence and therefore harmful to people? Is that possible?
Slater: Congressman, I’m not sure I fully understand the distinction you’re drawing. Certainly, again, incitement to violence or things that aren’t urgent, dangerous behavior, those are things that would be against our policies.
Crenshaw: Here’s, here’s, here’s the thing. When you call somebody a Nazi or you can make the argument that you’re inciting violence and here’s how, as a country, we all agree that Nazis are bad. We actually invaded an entire continent to defeat the Nazis. It’s normal to say Hashtag punch a Nazi because there’s this common thread among this in this country that they’re bad and that they’re evil and that they should be destroyed.
So when you’re operating off of that premise and it’s frankly, it’s a, good premise to operate on, well, what you’re implying then is that it’s okay to use violence against them. When you label them, when one of the most powerful social media companies in the world labels people as Nazis, you could make the argument that’s inciting violence. What you’re doing is wholly irresponsible. It doesn’t stop there. Well, a year ago it was also made clear that you fact check system has blatantly targeted conservative newspapers. Do you have any comments on that? Are you aware of the story? I’m talking, about?
Slater: I’m not familiar with necessarily the specific story, congressman. I am aware that from all political viewpoints, we sometimes get questions of this sore. I can say that our fact check labels generally are done algorithmically based on a mark up and follow up on our policies.
Crenshaw: For the record, they specifically target conservative news media and oftentimes they don’t even, they have a fact check on there that doesn’t even reference the actual article. But Google makes sure that it’s right next to it. So as to make people understand that that one is questionable even though when you actually read through it has nothing to do with it. Um, you know, a few days ago … one of my constituents posted photos on Facebook of Republican women, daring to say that there are women for Trump. Facebook took down that post right away with no explanation. Is there any explanation for that?
Other Google exec: Without seeing it, It’s hard for me to apply and that doesn’t violate our policies, but I’m happy to follow up on this specific example with you.
Crenshaw: Thank you. Listen here, here’s what it comes down to. If we don’t share the values of free speech, I’m not sure where we go from here. You know, this practice of silencing millions and millions of people, it will create wounds and divisions in this country that we cannot heal from. This is extremely worrisome. You’ve created amazing platforms. We can do amazing things with what these companies have created, but if we continue down this path, it’ll tear us apart. You do not have a constitutional obligation to enforce the First Amendment, but I would say that you absolutely have an obligation to enforce American values, and the First Amendment is an underpinning of American values that we should be protecting until the day we die.