Social Media Censorship
Big Tech’s Virtual Hammer
Is Big Tech big enough for free speech? Global social media platforms like Google and Facebook claim they’re valiantly protecting healthy public debate. Others see an insidiously toxic political agenda behind the emojis. Die Weltwoche investigates.
Have you ever noticed that the same, small pool of news organizations pop up in your Google searches? It’s not your imagination or lack of Interwebs savvy.
New research released, last week, by Northwestern University confirms that the monster search engine relies on a narrow band of left leaning news sites for its “Top Stories” in what the researchers call “the prime real-estate at the top of search results.” Nearly a quarter of those coveted spots routinely come from just three, liberal news organizations: the New York Times; Washington Post; with the around-the-clock, President Trump bashing CNN taking the decisive lead.
According to the Daily Caller, founded by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, internal company documents indicate Google also actively suppresses conservative news sites, a charge which Google denies.
Google, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram are coming under increasing scrutiny for their perceived hostility to conservative expression. Neil Potts, Facebook’s public policy director admits, “Silicon Valley tends to be more liberal than not. There is the possibility of unconscious bias.”
Unconscious or not, the White House is on high alert for complaints of conservative censorship. The administration has launched a new website, WH.gov/TechBias, encouraging users to report their personal experiences of suspected “political bias” at the whims of Big Tech. Google’s favored news purveyors, the Washington Post and New York Times, dismiss the president’s free speech crusade as rank conspiracy mongering and a cynical campaign ploy to collect contact data. But the anecdotal evidence of, at best, arbitrary and opaque rules that result in censoring conservative speech continues to accumulate, including from the president’s own son, Donald Trump, Jr.
In February, Instagram deleted a post by the feisty First Sibling mocking television actor Jussie Smollett for appearing to fake his own bizarre, late night, polar vortex, hate crime attack. Enraged, the pugnacious poster went on the offense attacking the Facebook-owned company for “force [feeding] everyone your leftist bullshit,” blasting (on Instagram), “When you continually trample one side do you expect them to just succumb to it?”
Just three weeks ago, Trump Jr. reports that Instagram was “at it again.” According to Trump, Jr., the social media platform deleted a photo of the Second Amendment supporter posing in a plaid shirt and blue jeans with a wounded military veteran at last month’s National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Indianapolis. “There was nothing harsh or political in there and as usual it magically somehow violated @Instagram standards, presumably because I’m in it and that’s too much for the social media gods in California.”
The sun-kissed social media gods vigorously deny engaging in viewpoint discrimination. Big Tech claims that their amorphously defined community standards are designed to safeguard their users from physical, mental, and emotional harm. That harm apparently includes Feminist activist Meghan Murphy deliberately “misgendering” a transwoman on Twitter by repeatedly calling her, “he.” Despite the fact that the offended party alternately identifies on other outlets as “Jonathan,” Twitter banned Murphy for her transphobic transgression. She is suing the media giant, which earned $3.04 billion in revenue last year, for the financial harm she claims to have suffered since being transitioned off of the global platform.
Jack Dorsey, the wraith-like CEO of the blue bird behemoth who subsists on one meal a day and starves himself on the weekends, “fully” admits his company “is more left-leaning.” But the hipster billionaire insists that the platform is ideologically neutral.
Hollywood actor James Woods doesn’t believe him. Last month, the celebrity conservative with 2.1 million followers quit the Twitter-shpere. Woods, whose prodigious talent includes going viral, was suspended from his account over his jab at Trump’s Potomac persecutors: “If you try to kill the King, you better not miss. #HangThemAll.” Unwilling to bow to Twitter’s capricious hate speech code, Woods tells the Daily Wire, “As long as Jack Dorsey remains the coward he seems to be, my Twitter days are in the past.”
Dan Gainor, vice president of TechWatch at the conservative-leaning Media Research Center, tells Die Weltwoche that, “Big Tech censorship of conservatives is very real.” He points out that, “Tech CEOs admit their work force is liberal, but they aren’t honest that the content rules they’ve established are even more left-wing. And rule enforcement is left up to the employees who often censor, suspend and ban conservatives, especially on Twitter.”
How those rules are applied can be bewildering. Last month, your author received this literal hate message on Twitter: “Nappy headed nigga, I hate you, I hate you, I don’t even know you and I hate your guts” accompanied by a racist photo.
After reporting the targeted, racial harassment, I received an automated email notifying me that, “After investigating, we have determined that the account is not in violation of the Twitter Rules.” No further explanation was provided.
Former presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz is also mystified by Twitter’s elastic hate speech boundaries. Last month, during a Senate hearing convened by the Constitutional lawyer entitled, “Stifling Free Speech: Technological Censorship and the Public Discourse,” Cruz confronted his Facebook and Twitter witnesses with a particularly baffling case.
A pro-life group had tweeted the quotation: “Abortion is profoundly anti-woman. Three quarters of its victims are women: Half the babies and all the mothers.” Admittedly provocative, but hardly obscene, the hard-hitting message was swiftly smacked down by the Twitter authority. Cruz noted, “It’s a quote from Mother Teresa... It's fairly remarkable that Mother Teresa is now deemed hate speech.” He then asked the blank faced executives hunched over the witness table, “Do either of you agree with the proposition that Mother Teresa is issuing hate speech?” There followed a long silence. Particularly perplexing is the fact that Twitter openly allows pornographic images. Ron Jeremy: Yes. Mother Theresa: No.
Big Tech has the right, as private companies, to determine the rules of their privately owned roads. Trump, himself, praises Twitter as a “tremendous platform.” He confessed to Fox News in 2017 that, “I doubt I would be here if it weren’t for social media, to be honest.” Some may see this as more of an indictment than an endorsement. Nevertheless, the Trump phenomenon only underscores the centrality of social media to discourse, debate, and political life. The arbitrary enforcement of constantly shifting standards not only raises hackles, it raises pressing issues of fairness and social trust.
Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of the UK-based “Index on Censorship,” warns that “social media platforms have enormous influence over what we see and how see it. Therefore, we should be concerned about the unilateral actions taken by the platforms to limit legal speech.” The free speech guardian cautions that, “the inconsistent silencing of those who are unwelcome on these platforms will only add to polarization.”
National Review senior writer David French sees a path forward for Big Tech as it navigates its widely acknowledged, profound public power. In an editorial, last summer, for the Google-approved New York Times, the conservative lawyer modestly suggests, “When creating a true marketplace of ideas, why not let the First Amendment be your guide?”
In the words of @realDonaldTrump, all caps, exclamation point: “This is the United States of America — and we have what’s known as FREEDOM OF SPEECH!”