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Twitter faces new criticism from Congress amid charges it briefly blocked net neutrality critics

The company said the incident was a glitch and fixed it, but GOP lawmakers sent them a nasty note anyway.

Thurgood Marshall College Fund 28th Annual Awards Gala
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey
Teresa Kroeger/Getty Images for Thurgood Marshall College Fund

Two top Republicans in the U.S. Congress sharply rebuked Twitter on Tuesday following reports that the website briefly blocked its users from posting links to a blog post that criticized the U.S. government’s net neutrality rules.

Twitter previously had described the mishap as a glitch, but GOP Sens. Ron Johnson and Roy Blunt still penned a letter that slammed the company’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, for an incident that appeared to lawmakers to be “an affront to free expression.”

The confusing saga began on July 12, the day that Twitter joined Facebook, Google and other tech giants for an online rally in defense of an open internet. Those companies, of course, seek to preserve the net neutrality safeguards currently on the U.S. government’s books, while the Trump administration — backed by the telecom sector — would prefer to scrap them.

Among that latter lot is AT&T, which published a blog post during the so-called net neutrality “day of action” to stress its belief that it supported net neutrality in principle — yet believed the existing rules are too heavy handed.

But those who sought to share the company’s blog post — which probably amounts to a handful of telecom nerds and reporters like yours truly — could not do so on Twitter. For a time, the site marked the link as suspicious and blocked new tweets containing it. That immediately led to cries of censorship, given Twitter’s public participation in the day of action in support of net neutrality — and on the opposite side of the debate from AT&T.

A Twitter spokesman at the time said the link was “erroneously caught in Twitter's anti-spam filters” and quickly remedied the mistake. But the fracas still managed to reach Capitol Hill, where Sens. Johnson and Blunt on Tuesday described the incident in a letter to Dorsey as “disturbing.”

“We share the goal of preserving an open internet where blocking, censorship, and throttling of legal content is prohibited,” they wrote. “We are deeply troubled that, if true, one of the internet's biggest platforms blocked AT&T when it voiced support for a legislative solution to preserve a free and open internet, preferring that to continued regulatory uncertainty at the Federal Communications Commission.”

“We hope that Twitter and other technology companies will partner with Congress on a real solution to codify open internet principles,” the lawmakers continued. “You do not need a day of action to get Republicans to the negotiating table. We sit ready and waiting for a real, factually informed discussion.”

The letter comes on the same day that members of Congress invited a slew of tech companies — but not Twitter — to testify at a September hearing on net neutrality.

A spokeswoman for Twitter did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

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