September 21, 2018 / 1:11 PM / in a month

U.S. Justice Department may delay meeting on possible social media bias: source

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Justice Department is considering delaying a meeting with state attorneys general planned for next week to discuss concerns about conservative voices being stifled on social media, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

A U.S. flag flies at the headquarters of the Department of Justice in Washington, U.S., August 3, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Companies like Facebook Inc, Twitter Inc and Google owner Alphabet Inc have been accused by some conservatives of allegedly seeking to exclude their ideas.

The companies deny any such bias.

The Justice Department said last week it had invited a bipartisan group of 24 state attorneys general to attend the Sept. 25 meeting. So far, the attorneys general of California, Nebraska, South Carolina and Texas have said they would attend.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the meeting after President Donald Trump criticized social media outlets, alleging unfair treatment of conservatives. Antitrust issues are also expected to be discussed at the meeting.

Social media companies have faced pressure from users and lawmakers over their role in spreading false information, and have stepped up efforts to curb activity aimed at disrupting the midterm elections or that use hateful or violent speech.

The Justice Department is considering holding the social media discussion during a November meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General, the source said.

The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Representative Greg Walden, chair of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a hearing earlier this month that Twitter had made “mistakes” that, he said, minimized Republicans’ presence on the social media site, a practice conservatives have labeled “shadow banning.”

At the hearing, Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey said some of the platform’s algorithms had not been impartial and that the algorithm had been changed to fix the issue.

Publicly at least, state attorneys general have not given much support to the idea that they might investigate social media companies because of concerns over political bias.

A handful of states said they planned to attend the meeting.

Of those, the Texas attorney general’s office said it would send a representative because of concerns about conservative ideas “being suppressed on several social media platforms,” Marc Rylander, a spokesman for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, said in an emailed statement.

California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra did not seem inclined to attack social media companies, saying in a statement earlier this month: “States like California, the nation’s tech leader and home to a $385 billion tech industry, have a wealth of insight and expertise to share in any inquiry about the role of technology companies, and we look forward to a thoughtful conversation in Washington, D.C.”

The National Association of Attorneys General meeting is scheduled for Nov. 27-29 in Charleston, South Carolina, according to the group’s website.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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