Arizona residents share nation's concerns on Big Tech election interference, more hearings to come
"We also want to be able to protect Arizonans’ freedom of speech and offer solutions and suggestions to the body on how to do that," State Rep. Kolodin said. Recent revelations about government coercion or collusion in suppressing political speech is spawning nationwide concern.
A hearing on big tech, online censorship and election interference hosted by the Arizona State Legislature drew concerned citizens and experts to present their inquiries on the future of free speech and the state. From the response, it won't be the last time.
Last month it was revealed that Democrat Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs asked Twitter, now called X, to censor critics of a tweet she had posted while serving in the state legislature. According to Arizona Capitol Oversight, a self-described government accountability website, "then-Secretary Katie Hobbs and her government office engaged in an extensive campaign to censor her critics before and during her campaign for governor."
Arizona State Rep. Alex Kolodin (R-Scottsdale) said the allegations against Hobbs are just a part of what will be investigated.
“We have been working on this committee hearing since before that story," Kolodin said in an interview with Just the News. "We knew stuff like this was happening. We actually didn’t know this story was going to break. It’s part of what we are going to be looking into.”
“We’re going to have more hearings on the issue,” Kolodin added. “We are trying to get another one scheduled for next month. We’ll probably have more. We want to do two things. We want to know if what Katie Hobbs did is unlawful under existing law. It will determine if the current law needs to be updated. We also want to be able to protect Arizonans’ freedom of speech and offer solutions and suggestions to the body on how to do that.”
Psychologist and researcher Robert Epstein testified before the state legislature on Tuesday. Epstein, an expert in psychology and social media, was formerly the editor in chief of Psychology Today, and has testified before the United States Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, saying that "Google poses a serious threat to democracy."
In the Arizona hearing, Epstein voiced his view that Google had become so powerful it was able to sway elections.
“We don’t even need to hold elections anymore,” Epstein said during his speech. “They [Google] can tell us to a high degree of certainty how many people are going to vote, how they’re going to vote, and who’s going to win.”
He added his view during his speech that if it hadn't been for Google, former GOP Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake would have won her election. He also announced during his presentation that his team would be filing a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) against Google near the end of this month.
A Google spokesperson called Epstein's claims "misleading" and "widely debunked."
"This individual has continued to make deeply misleading claims that have been widely debunked, including for omitting data that would have changed his findings," the spokesperson told Just the News. "Any allegations that Google deliberately designed search algorithms or intervened with the intent of swaying voters are categorically false. Studies from researchers at The Economist and Stanford have found no evidence of partisan leaning in our search results.”
Lake also spoke at the hearing during public comment, addressing Epstein's comments and her concerns of censorship.
"Big tech does not have the interests of the American people at heart," Lake said. "As a matter of fact, they are trying to destroy America through censorship. And I think it was absolutely alarming what Dr. Epstein reported how Google’s censorship, the manipulation of search results manipulate the outcome of elections."
Others who spoke during public comment expressed their concerns about their votes being nullified and voices stifled.
"I think the citizens of this country deserve a platform where we can talk about things freely and express our opinions," resident Yvonne Hill said during her speech.
Censorship and big tech influence, particularly regarding political speech and COVID discussions has become a national issue. The U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee formed a "Subcommittee on Weaponization of Government" which has heard testimony from investigative journalists such as Matt Taibbi, who broke the "Twitter Files" story, one of the first provably true collection of documents showing a potentially unconstitutional social media censorship scheme by White House officials.
In May of this year, that subcommittee heard testimony from Steve Friend, a former FBI Special Agent who told the committee that he was a witness to "FBI collusion with Big Tech to gather intelligence on Americans, censor political speech, and target citizens for malicious prosecution."
The next month, an interim report from House Judiciary Committee Republicans confirmed Just The News' reporting that among other things, the Department of Homeland Security outsourced censorship to third parties.
While it has not been confirmed yet, Rep. Kolodin told Just the News that at the next hearing, they hope to hear testimony from John Sauer, the attorney who won an injunction in the Missouri vs. Biden case.
In that case, the federal government appealed the injunction to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod said that the Biden administration's efforts to persuade social media companies to remove, throttle and suppress purported misinformation on COVID-19, Hunter Biden's laptop and elections "reminded her of a mafia movie."