Election 2018NewsTechnologyTop Story

Colo. left out of Justice Dept. meeting on social-media political bias

Author: David O. Williams - September 17, 2018 - Updated: October 8, 2018

Coffman-Foothills-Republicans-2-W.jpg
Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman. (Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics – file)

Colorado so far does not have a seat at the table for a politically-fraught Sept. 25 meeting between U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a bipartisan group of 24 state attorneys general to discuss consumer-protection and antitrust complaints against social media companies.

Sessions first invited just Republican attorneys general to the meeting, which will include a Justice Department antitrust division representative, but on Thursday expanded the invite list to include Democratic AG’s from states such as California.

As of early Monday, Colorado still was not on the list.

“Our office has not received any information regarding this meeting,” Jacqlin McKinnon, spokeswoman for Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, told Colorado Politics. McKinnon did not say if this is an issue of concern for Coffman, a Republican.

Democratic attorney general candidate Phil Weiser, who hopes to replace Coffman after the Nov. 6 general election, said in an interview in EagleVail Friday that it’s unfortunate Coffman won’t be at the Sept. 25 meeting, which apparently was triggered by President Donald Trump.

“It concerns me that (the meeting originally) was a politicization of law enforcement by only inviting Republican AG’s,” said Weiser, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Obama administration Justice Department who focused on antitrust issues.

“That’s completely wrong,” added Weiser, who’s also the former dean of the University of Colorado Law School. “I’m glad that they’re backing off from that, but it begs the question, what’s their criteria for who they’re inviting? Colorado is one of the top technology hubs in the United States.”

Trump last month, ahead of congressional hearing with tech-industry executives from Twitter and Facebook, complained that social media companies are biased against conservative and Republican viewpoints.

“Google search results for “Trump News” shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out,” Trump tweeted on Aug. 28.

“Illegal? 96% of results on ‘Trump News’ are from National Left-Wing Media, very dangerous. Google & others are suppressing voices of Conservatives and hiding information and news that is good. They are controlling what we can & cannot see. This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!” he added.

Democrats, on the other hand, argue Republicans benefited from the abuse of social media platforms by foreign actors during the 2016 election and are seeking to politicize the issue for political gain during the midterm election cycle.

“We’ll need to think about what the public policy response (to social media) is, but I don’t think that we start from the premise that it helps Democrats or helps Republicans,” Weiser said. “It’s so much more than that, and it’s not fair to just sort of put an ideological lens on it.”

Colorado 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler, the Republican candidate to replace Coffman — who stepped down to unsuccessfully run for governor – is cool to the idea of government intervention in the social media sphere.

“Antitrust serves an important function and that is really a consumer protection job in many ways,” Brauchler said at a campaign stop in Avon on Sept. 7. “But I’d want to take a harder look at the intersection between the First Amendment and antitrust on these particular issues.”

Brauchler is concerned about heavy-handed government involvement in controlling content that’s protected by free speech principles under the First Amendment, whether it’s on the internet, in newspapers, movies, or on other platforms.

“I am frightened by the idea of inviting the government in to weigh in on what content should be there or not be there, and while (the Sept. 25 meeting) doesn’t jump right into that, it feels like that’s the motivation for it,” Brauchler said, adding that some “activist AG’s” may disagree.

“Pretty soon these companies will be big enough that they can withstand a multi-state lawsuit by attorneys general and maybe even the Department of Justice and that’s right now a huge power that some of these activist AG’s have is they join hands and file lawsuits to try and bring companies into compliance with the policies that they think are best,” Brauchler said.

But Brauchler added that policy should be established by the legislative and executive branches at both the state and federal level, not by state attorneys general. Weiser disagrees.

“We have antitrust laws. We have consumer protection laws. State AG’s are expected to enforce them,” Weiser said. “That’s your job. And some people could call that activism. I call that doing your job, protecting consumers.

“Sometimes you hear people say, ‘I’m not going to bring lawsuits because that would be activism,’ but what you’re really saying is, ‘I’m going to let whatever happens happen and if it hurts consumers, so be it,’” Weiser added.

David O. Williams

David O. Williams

David O. Williams is a freelance writer based in Eagle-Vail, Colo. His work has appeared in more than 50 online and print publications in Colorado and around the nation.