Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) is a Republican some have called a right-wing “populist” because of some of his legislative ideas. Despite being elected in 2018, he’s already become one of Big Tech’s biggest critics in Washington, D.C.
He introduced multiple bills to corral companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter and Amazon. He worked to ban TikTok from government-owned devices, called for a criminal antitrust investigation of Amazon as well as suggesting similar investigations of monopolies like Google and Facebook. He’s also criticized social media companies over privacy concerns, bias and selective censorship of conservatives.
Hawley’s March 2020 bill to ban the Chinese-owned Tik Tok app from government equipment unanimously passed the Senate on Aug. 6, 2020. He also introduced a bill in June of that year to limit immunity tech companies currently have under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
"For too long, Big Tech companies like Twitter, Google and Facebook have used their power to silence political speech from conservatives without any recourse for users. Section 230 has been stretched and rewritten by courts to give these companies outlandish power over speech without accountability,” Hawley said in a press release. “Congress should act to ensure bad actors are not given a free pass to censor and silence their opponents."
Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (FL), Mike Braun (IN), Tom Cotton (AR), and Kelly Loeffler (GA), cosponsored the bill which would open tech companies up to lawsuits and damages if they “selectively” censor political speech.
Before becoming a freshman senator by defeating incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) in 2018, Hawley was Missouri’s attorney general for two years. He said that in that role he launched the first antitrust and privacy investigation into Big Tech. A litigator and constitutional attorney, Hawley helped win two cases before the Supreme Court including Hobby Lobby v. Burwell.
- Hawley’s bill to ban TikTok from U.S. government devices passed the Senate unanimously in August 2020.
- Hawley wrote Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in May, demanding to know why it should retain Section 230 immunity after “editorializing” political speech by adding fact-checks to President Donald Trump’s tweets. “Twitter decided to editorialize, appending its own comments and assessment to the President’s speech. But editorializing is what publishers do.”
- Faced with the possibility of Microsoft buying TikTok from ByteDance, Hawley warned Microsoft that any deal that did not sever ties with the Chinese Communist Party or its proxies would be “unacceptable.”
- The senator slammed Google for acting like a publisher when it threatened a prominent conservative website (The Federalist) with demonetization over comments left on its website by outsiders.
- Hawley’s BAD ADS bill took aim at Big Tech’s data tracking practices and use of behavioral advertising.
- Concerned with the Federal Trade Commission’s inability or unwillingness to hold giant, technology companies accountable, Hawley proposed major changes to the agency. His bill would move the FTC to within the Department of Justice, restructure its leadership and give it more power.
- Wired interviewed Hawley in 2019 and said he sounded like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Warren has called for breaking up Big Tech companies. Hawley replied, “Well, I think everybody who cares about workers, everybody who cares about working families, everybody who cares about competition and innovation needs to be concerned about big tech.”
- He and three other senators blasted Facebook for downgrading Live Action’s reach over “false” information after biased fact-checkers unfairly flagged pro-life content. The senators wrote, “No reasonable person would describe Grossman or Schickler as neutral or objective when it comes to the issue of abortion, yet Facebook relied on their rating to suppress and censor a pro-life organization with more than 3 million followers. These are clear violations of the IFCN principle and of Facebook’s supposed commitment to non-partisanship.”
- In July 2019, he introduced legislation to combat social media addiction. That same month, Hawley condemned YouTube’s unwillingness to turn off automatic video recommendations of minors when it came to pedophiles during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
- Hawley introduced the “Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act” in June 2019. The bill was read and referred to committee, but has gone no further. It would have required companies content moderation policies to be “politically unbiased.” The bill drew criticism from regulation-averse conservatives and libertarians for being vague and having potential to increase censorship. Trump praised the bill.
- Hawley called for a third-party audit of Twitter’s suspension policies after it suspended the account for the pro-life film Unplanned, during its opening weekend.