WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump is ramping up his criticism of social-media companies, accusing them of silencing and censoring users, especially conservatives.
“Social Media Giants are silencing millions of people,” the president wrote on Twitter on Aug. 24. “Can’t do this even if it means we must continue to hear Fake News like CNN, whose ratings have suffered gravely. People have to figure out what is real, and what is not, without censorship!”
An undercover video released by Project Veritas on Jan. 11 shows Twitter engineers discussing the “shadow banning” of Trump supporters and other conservatives. Twitter CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey said in a recent CNN interview that his own bias, as well as that of many of the company’s employees, is “left-leaning.”
Shadowbanning is when a social-media platform hides the content of someone’s posts from showing up on their followers’ timelines, without the user’s knowledge. One identified method is to remove the tweets of targeted accounts from search results, unless a default search filter was changed each time a user conducted a search.
Twitter also has restricted or banned some conservative accounts for posting “racist” content, but seems reticent to do the same to more liberal users, such as New York Times employee Sarah Jeong, who posted hundreds of derogatory tweets about white people.
Trump, who uses Twitter prolifically, posted on July 26, “Twitter “SHADOW BANNING” prominent Republicans. Not good. We will look into this discriminatory and illegal practice at once! Many complaints.”
On July 27, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), whose Twitter account was affected, said he filed a complaint against the company with the Federal Election Commission.
Gaetz is convinced Twitter targeted him intentionally, and consequently gave an advantage to his political opponents.
“I am certain there were only four members of Congress who had their voices suppressed on Twitter,” he told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on July 27. “Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows, and Devin Nunes. That’d be one hell of a coincidence.”
Gaetz said, if found guilty, Twitter could be fined for illegally making a corporate donation to a political campaign—essentially the Democratic opponents.
On the same day, Twitter’s Dorsey said in a tweet: “We want a vibrant and healthy public conversation inclusive of all perspectives, and one that’s immediately relevant and valuable. We’re always listening to the conversation around this, and we commit to participating more fully in it. It’s important to us we get this right.”
Dorsey will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Sept. 5 about his company’s algorithms and content monitoring, according to a tweet by the committee on Aug. 24.
But Twitter is not the only social-media giant accused of censoring.
On Aug. 6, Google, Facebook, Apple, and Spotify all removed a large part of the InfoWars media run by Alex Jones from their platforms. Jones, a longtime radio host, has faced frequent criticism for making controversial and unverified claims and for his hot-tempered outbursts.
Google blocked “The Alex Jones Channel” and several other InfoWars official channels around noon on Aug. 6, after Facebook removed four InfoWars pages. Apple removed five InfoWars podcasts from iTunes, and Spotify removed one podcast earlier that day. All four companies cited “hate speech” as the reason for removing the content. Pinterest and LinkedIn have since removed Jones’s profiles.
On Aug. 16, Facebook severely penalized PragerU, a nonprofit organization that produces conservative educational videos, by blocking some of its videos, only to remove the penalties and apologize a day later, saying the sanctions were a mistake.
During a rally in Charleston, West Virginia, on Aug. 21, Trump said his administration is “standing up to social-media censorship,” but didn’t elaborate.
“I would rather have fake news, than have anybody—including liberals, socialists, anything—than have anybody stopped and censored,” he said. “But … you can’t have censorship. You can’t pick one person and say, ‘Well we don’t like what he’s been saying, he’s out.’
“So we’ll live with fake news. I mean, I hate to say it, but we have no choice. Because that’s by far the better alternative. … Because, you know what, it can turn around, it could be them next. We believe in the right of Americans to speak their minds.”