LISA MASCARO and ALI SVENSON (Associated Press)
WASHINGTON (FloridaToday.news) — Robert F. Kennedy Jr. defended himself Thursday against accusations that he spreads racist and hateful conspiracy theories online as he testified at a House hearing on government censorship despite requests from outside groups to withdraw the Democratic presidential candidate’s invitation following his recent anti-Semitic remarks.
The federal government’s Republican-led military subcommittee is reinforcing GOP claims that tech companies that work regularly with the government are trying to stop the spread of misinformation online by unfairly targeting conservatives and others.
In his opening remarks, Kennedy referred to the legacy of his famous family, denouncing complaints of racism and anti-Semitism against him.
“This is an attempt to censor censorship hearings,” said Kennedy, son of Roberts F. Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy.
Kennedy defended his social media posts that addressed racial issues, vaccine safety, and other issues by not calling them “racist or anti-Semitic.” He said his family has long believed in the right to free speech enshrined in the First Amendment.
“The First Amendment was not written for easy speech,” Kennedy said. “It was a speech that no one likes you for.
Republicans are seeking to promote Kennedy after he announced in April that he was preparing a long-term Democratic primary challenge to President Joe Biden. Kennedy presidential campaign chairman Dennis Kucinich, a former congressman and former presidential candidate, sat in the front row behind him.
Big tech companies have vehemently rejected the GOP claims and say they apply their rules impartially to everyone, regardless of ideology or political affiliation. And the researchers found no widespread evidence that social media companies discriminate against conservative news, messages, or materials.
The top Democrat in the House panel, Rep. Stacy Plaskett of the Virgin Islands, said the Republican majority provides Kennedy and others with a platform to promote conspiracy theories and rallying calls for “bigotry and hate.”
“This is not the freedom of speech that I know,” Plaskett said.
The hearing comes after a federal judge recently sought to bar the Biden administration from collaborating with social media to track misinformation and other online communications. The Court of Appeal temporarily suspended the execution of the order.
Commission chairman Rep. Jim Jordan, D-Ohio, supported the decision to have Kennedy testify. In his opening remarks, Jordan described what he said were examples of censorship, including the White House’s request to Twitter to remove Kennedy’s racially motivated post about COVID-19 vaccines.
“That’s why Mr. Kennedy is running for president – to help us expose and stop what’s going on,” Jordan said.
The watchdog group asked Jordan to turn down Kennedy’s invitation after he suggested that COVID-19 could be “ethnically targeted” to save Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese.
In these videotaped remarks, first published by The New York Post, Kennedy said “there is an argument” that COVID-19 “targets ethnicity” and that it “disproportionately attacks certain races.”
After the video was made public, Kennedy tweeted that his words were misrepresented and denied that it was ever suggested that COVID-19 was deliberately created to spare the Jewish people. He called for the Post article to be retracted.
But Kennedy has a history of comparing vaccines, widely credited with saving millions of lives, to Nazi Germany’s Holocaust genocide, comments for which he has sometimes apologized.
Kennedy-founded Children’s Health Defense is currently considering legal action against a number of news organizations, including the Associated Press, accusing them of violating antitrust laws by taking action to expose disinformation, including about COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines.
Jordan said that while he disagreed with Kennedy’s remarks, he had no intention of removing him from the commission. Speaker Kevin McCarthy took a similar view, saying he did not want to censor Kennedy.
On the eve of the hearing, Democratic Rep. Jerry Connolly of Virginia said that Kennedy held “vile” beliefs. “By promoting Mr. Kennedy, the Republicans are intentionally providing a platform for inciting hate speech,” he said.
The group wants to investigate how the federal government is working with technology companies to flag posts that contain false information or outright lies. Debate freezes are part of Section 230 of the federal communications law, which protects tech companies like Twitter and Facebook from liability for what is said on their platforms.
Lawmakers on the commission also heard evidence from Emma-Jo Morris, a Breitbart News journalist who has written extensively about Biden’s son, Hunter Biden; and D. John Sauer, former Missouri Solicitor General who is currently a Special Assistant Attorney General in the Louisiana Department of Justice involved in a lawsuit against the Biden administration.
Morris tweeted part of her opening statement in which she described an “elaborate censorship plot” that she claimed was designed to stop her reporting on Hunter Biden.
Another witness, Maya Wylie, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, deviated from prepared remarks to urge lawmakers to think about how important it is to have platforms where Americans can share opinions, but also “how vital it is that they be based on fact and not fiction.”
The US is hesitant to regulate the social media giants, even as outside groups warn of a rise in hate speech and misinformation that could be devastating to civil society.
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