In 2016 Gizmodo wrote an exposé that sent shockwaves through the social media universe. An investigative reporter had discovered that employees who monitored Facebook’s trending topics were intentionally purging conservative stories from appearing in the module.
"I think that there's a selection bias," Gizmodo technology editor Michael Nunez told “CBS This Morning” after the news broke. "The fact is, they've set up a system that allows for human bias to enter, to impact what people are able to see in their feeds.”
Last year, Google was gob-smacked by its own political bias. A report from the Daily Caller Foundation revealed the online search giant was almost exclusively fact-checking conservative outlets, and some of its fact checks were blatantly wrong. Google later suspended its fact-checking effort over quality concerns.
Silicon Valley and the left-leaning mainstream media like to brush off conservative claims of bias online, asserting that conservatives only have “anecdotal” evidence to back them up. They laughed off President Trump’s White House social media summit last week, with CNN proclaiming only “right-wing extremists” were invited (fact check: false), and Vanity Fair proclaiming it a “troll convention.”
Yet, the meeting was designed to help diagnose the problem. And there is a problem. According to a recent Media Research Center poll, one-third (32%) of self-described conservative Facebook users have left or are considering leaving Facebook due to political censorship; two-thirds of conservatives agreed they do not trust Facebook to treat its users equally regardless of their political beliefs; and another two-thirds of self-described conservatives believe social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are purposely censoring conservatives and conservative ideas from their platforms.
Yes, much of this perceived bias is anecdotal, but if it were purely accidental, wouldn’t liberals also be complaining about censorship every now and again? These missteps always seem to happen to conservatives – not the other way around.
The Daily Signal, a conservative website, told Fox News last year that Facebook removed one of its videos of a pediatrician warning about the dangers of puberty blockers for children. Views of the video spiked to 70 million, then it suddenly disappeared. After pressure from the Daily Signal, Facebook restored the video and issued an apology.
The same can be said regarding Marsha Blackburn’s senatorial run. In her launch video, she said, “I am 100% pro-life. I fought Planned Parenthood and we stopped the sale of baby body parts, thank God.”
Twitter censors found the use of “baby body parts” to be too inflammatory and wouldn’t allow her campaign to pay to promote it online. After much uproar the social media platform reversed its stance.
Numerous other examples abound.
Dennis Prager’s PragerU had 40% of its YouTube videos restricted because of their content. Rep. Devin Nunes has sued Twitter for shadow-banning his account while he was running for reelection, and actively promoting his opponent. White House Social Media Director Dan Scavino had his Facebook account suspended after the company’s censors somehow mistakenly thought he was a bot.
The day after the Jeffrey Epstein scandal broke, Google algorithms miraculously couldn’t find any search suggestions linking “Clinton and Epstein,” but gave a slew of recommendations for “Epstein and Trump” and “Epstein and Acosta.”
On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will take on Google and the issue of censorship through its search engines where more than 90% of all online searches are done. Congress and the White House alike are grappling with a simple question: Are social media platforms public forums, where free speech should go unfettered, or publishers who have the right to edit and censor the material they dispense?
Why should Silicon Valley liberal elites – whose companies are protected by the government through Section 230 within the Communications Decency Act from being sued for something posted by a user – get to dictate what content gets censored or highlighted? Why should they be able to impose their values on American citizens?
The problem is real and the stakes are high. With YouTube having 1 billion active users a month, Facebook having 1.2 billion daily users, and Twitter with 126 million, Americans using these forums should be able to listen, read, watch and digest both conservative and liberal viewpoints at their will. Disfavored speech should be countered with more speech. Debates’ should be had freely and passionately, after all, since we live in a democracy, and that’s what should be protected: the freedom of speech.