Diamond & Silk Part Deux

On Thursday the House Judiciary Committee held a circus disguised as a hearing, ostensibly about filtering practices of social media platforms. The star witnesses of this hearing were pro-Trump social media influencers Diamond & Silk. Facebook, Google, and Twitter were also invited to attend but wisely chose not to.

Originally my plan was to watch the hearing but not give it any oxygen. But I found that once I checked in, I couldn’t look away. I’ve attended and live-tweeted a good deal of legislative hearings over the past decade, and I’ve seen some ridiculous things from state legislators and Congresspeople. Political theater is a part of the democratic process and I get it even when I don’t agree with it. Thursday’s hearing was like nothing I’ve ever seen before but I have a feeling it won’t be the last ridiculous thing to come from the House this year. Given how little Republicans in Congress have to do and how their only strength heading into the midterm elections is their base, I expect we’ll see more sideshows before they go home to their districts to campaign. Steve King all but promised we would when he said he hoped that Gateway Pundit founder Jim Hoft would also be brought in to testify.

How did we get here? The day before Zuckerberg’s own testimony to Congress, Diamond and Silk claimed they were being censored on Facebook. Ted Cruz grilled Zuckerberg about this during the Senate hearing, and pro-Trump media went wild for it. Republican Congresspersons, playing to the same base as Ted Cruz, spent much of their time the following day also asking about Diamond and Silk to the point of obsession (As the Daily Beast pointed out, Zuckerberg was asked more questions about Diamond and Silk than about Facebook’s role in the recent Myanmar Genocide.)

Of course, Diamond & Silk’s claim turned out to be a hoax. That didn’t matter to Fox News who kept pushing the lie on the air.

Republicans in the House Judiciary Committee didn’t care either. Seeing an opportunity to pander to the same base, they decided to devote an entire hearing to Diamond and Silk. They invited a few experts for show, but their contributions were almost entirely sidelined.

Here’s what happened:

  • Diamond & Silk lied under oath. They claimed that the Trump campaign never paid them but FEC reports say otherwise. When called out they claimed that the FEC was fake news. Fun side note: the other campaign that paid them in 2016? Paul Nehlen. They cut an ad for him.
  • Diamond & Silk don’t know how Facebook works. That was painfully obvious. They seemed to think Facebook was supposed to notify every fan whenever they posted new content on their page. This surprised me since social media influencers live and die by metrics, and in my experience usually, know a lot about the ins and outs of platforms they put content on. Diamond and Silk also claimed that Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, two figures with massive social media followings, were being censored as well.
  • Diamond & Silk seem to believe that Facebook is a public utility because Facebook is a publicly traded company. Not one free-market Republican on the committee bothered to correct this.
  • Speaking of Republicans on the committee, they don’t seem to know who Diamond & Silk actually are. Rep. Gohmert referred to them as “Gold & Silk.” Rep. Chabot called them “Diamond & Spice.”

Democratic members did attend the hearing and asked questions. Some chose to confront Diamond & Silk, others chose to ignore them entirely. Most everyone scolded their Republican colleagues for holding the hearing in the first place. Rep. Ted Lieu put it most succinctly saying “This is a stupid and ridiculous hearing.”

Rep. Ted Deutch, who represents Parkland Florida asked witnesses about the Parkland hoaxes, disinformation campaigns about student survivors and what tech’s legal and moral obligations to protect the Parkland survivors and others in similar circumstances are. Multiple members scolded Republicans for refusing to meet with Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Chris Wylie earlier in the week. Reps. Himes and Nadler called the hearing out for the sideshow that it was.

I’m not sure if Republican members can’t tell truth from fiction anymore, or if they just don’t care. Again, I expect political theater from members of Congress, especially when every moment can be made into a video clip. But this was beyond that. This was an entire hearing designed for YouTube. Every Republican member wanted their own viral moment. They were more than happy to waste taxpayer resources, throw out the truth, and ignore social norms in order to get it.

Diamond & Silk delivered.

If you’d like to see what a serious inquiry into tech’s problems from a serious governing body looks like, here’s what Parliament in the UK has been up to this week.

Ctrl Alt-Right Delete is a newsletter devoted to understanding how the right operates online and developing strategies and tactics to fight back. It is edited byMelissa Ryan in partnership with HOPE not hate.

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Politics + technology. Author of Ctrl Alt Right Delete newsletter. Subscribe here: https://goo.gl/c74Vva. Coffee drinker. Kentucky basketball fan.