A US senator who has become known for his criticism of big tech companies is seeking answers after Instagram purported to censor videos taken by a prominent worship leader.
Republican Sen. Josh Hawley got involved after Bethel Music's Sean Feucht wrote on social media that Instagram had stopped someone sharing videos of him leading worship at the site where George Floyd was killed.
In a screenshot shared by Feucht, Instagram seems to have prohibited the musician's video from being shared to the 'stories' feature because it "goes against community guidelines".
Feucht commented: "This is what we’ve come to in America! Instagram is now classifying my WORSHIP videos as “harmful or false information” Religious Liberty? Freedom of Speech? Big Tech censorship?"
Mr Feucht has been causing some controversy recently after deciding to take a Bethel worship team to sites of unrest in the wake of George Floyd's death for impromptu worship concerts. Some protesters have expressed their displeasure at him being there at such a sensitive time.
Feucht explained his reasons to Fox News:
"I'm a leader in the faith community. I'm also an artist and I have a worship and missions ministry. One of the things we've been doing since [the recent U.S. protests] started happening is, we've been going to a lot of these places and bringing a unified - black, white Hispanic, Asian - just a unified coalition of people together, worshiping and praying, and peacefully protesting."
He added: "We did it in St. Louis under the archway, a couple of blocks from where four cops were shot a night or two before. It was still pretty crazy there. Then we did Minneapolis. We have people in Manhattan and all kinds of places but myself personally, I was there in St. Louis and then Minneapolis. What was happening was, for whatever reason, my videos on Instagram were being flagged as harmful and did not meet the community standards."
In response to the claims, Sen. Hawley tweeted:
"Cancel culture meets #BigTech. Now @instagram is censoring a Christian worship leader who wants to post videos of praise and worship from places where there has recently been unrest. And that doesn’t meet “community standards”? Can’t wait to hear the explanation for this."
Facebook, the parent company of Instagram, insisted that they had not censored any of Feucht's videos:
“We haven’t removed any content from @seanfreucht’s account," spokesperson Stephanie Otway told Fox News. "The post in question was re-shared by another account, and we haven't seen any evidence that it was removed by mistake."
Still, Hawley, who has campaigned for increased regulation of social media giants, believes that the action is just part of a wider problem of big tech companies censoring content deemed conservative-Christian in nature.
He said: "Google threatened to demonetise conservative news sites, and now Instagram decided to censor a Christian worship leader for posting praise and worship videos. There is no accountability for these companies who engage in censorship, and this is why Congress needs to reform Section 230 and end the sweetheart deal for these companies.”
Section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act "provides immunity from civil liabilities for information service providers that remove or restrict content from their services they deem 'obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected'".
Last year, Hawley introduced the Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology (SMART) Act, which sought to ban features such as infinite scrolling and auto-play, which he argued were key contributors in the rise of internet addiction.
Earlier this year, Sean Feucht ran for election to the U.S. House to represent California's 3rd Congressional District. He lost to fellow Republican Tamika Hamilton by 33,540 votes to 16,549. Democrat John Garamendi won 56.5 per cent of the overall ballot, garnering over 65,000 votes.