Senate Committee to Explore Twitter's Treatment of Anti-Abortion Movie

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) will chair a hearing that will include the co-writer and co-director of 'Unplanned.'

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said Monday he will hold a hearing to discuss whether Twitter and other tech companies engage in censorship of conservative speech, and one of the filmmakers behind the anti-abortion movie Unplanned is set to testify.

The hearing, set for Wednesday in Washington, has been dubbed “Stifling Free Speech: Technology Censorship and the Public Discourse," and insiders say executives from Twitter, Facebook and Google have been asked to testify, as has Chuck Konzelman, the co-writer and co-director of Unplanned.

Cruz will oversee the hearing as chairman of the Judicial Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution. The film is based on the true story of Abby Johnson, who quit her job with Planned Parenthood to become a pro-life advocate.

Unplanned, a Pure Flix movie critical of abortion and of Planned Parenthood, opened March 29, and the next morning Twitter suspended the movie’s account because it was linked to an account that had violated rules. After users tweeted their displeasure to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, the decision was reversed and the account was reinstated about an hour after it had been suspended.

When it comes to Unplanned, "The ridicule of the mainstream media and Hollywood is to be expected," Cruz told The Hollywood Reporter. "But big tech's attempted censorship of (Johnson's) story during it's opening weekend is deeply troubling and revealing. I have repeatedly asked tech companies for basic data on how many voices on their social platforms are silenced and to what extent it is politically targeted. I intend to keep asking these questions, and hold them accountable."

As far as I’m concerned, it’s part of a systematic bias against conservative media,” added Konzelman. “We were on Twitter for nine months and an error occurred on opening weekend? That's not much fun. It’s the film’s theatrical debut. Couldn’t they check their facts a little bit?”

Konzelman also said that, prior to the film’s opening, Google refused the filmmakers’ attempts to buy banner ads, though the giant search engine has since changed course. Unplanned, which has earned $12.5 million thus far on a budget of $6 million, also had a problem buying commercial airtime on several networks, but insiders say Cruz’s hearing will only address social media.

The GOP-led Senate held similar hearings in 2018, discussing not only alleged censorship but also online privacy, data protection and Facebook’s scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, though this is the first time a filmmaker and his movie will be part of the equation.

Beyond Cruz, the subcommittee includes Republican Sens. John Cornyn (TX), Ben Sasse (NE), Marsha Blackburn (TN), Michael Lee (UT) and Mike Crapo (ID), along with Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (IL), Christopher Coons (DE), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and Kamala Harris (CA).

“They will be investigating whether social media is suppressing conservative thought and free speech,” Konzelman said of the subcommittee senators. “Abby Johnson, the subject of our film, and Ashley Bratcher, our lead actress, both found out they were unable to follow their own film for a time on Twitter last week.”

April 9, 10:15 a.m.: Updated to include comments from Sen. Ted Cruz.