Big Tech’s Worst Censorship of February: Less Obvious, But Still Strongly Anti-Free Speech

March 6th, 2024 11:12 AM

Spring is here, but for Big Tech, spring cleaning just means more censorship — even if it’s more subtle and sneakier than before.

Multiple social media and tech platforms were busily engaged in crushing free speech in February. While X’s (formerly Twitter) censorship, through its use of Community Notes, is open and obvious, other Big Tech platforms appear to be taking their censorship underground by using less obvious but still harmful measures. When it comes to elections, however, Big Tech companies have vowed to continue interfering through censorship actions, though the details remain vague.

1) Google-owned YouTube censors Alliance Defending Freedom video concerning abortion drugs. The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) shared a video on its YouTube channel Feb. 5 that featured a woman discussing her traumatic experience with abortion drugs. The video, “Abortion Drugs are High-Risk. We must hold the FDA Accountable for Removing Commonsense Safeguards,” received a fact-checking context label from YouTube. The “Abortion health information” label merely repeated a definition of abortion using common leftist terms while not acknowledging that the procedure is sometimes done using drugs by the women themselves. The label falsely claimed: “An abortion is a procedure to end a pregnancy. It uses medicine or surgery to remove the embryo or fetus and placenta from the uterus. The procedure is done by a licensed healthcare professional. For information purposes only. Consult your local medical authority for advice.” [Emphasis added.]

YouTube’s label also provided a link to MedlinePlus's page on Abortion. ADF objected to the label, arguing that “it's not accurate,” citing the claim about licensed medical professionals. “Your error is actually the crux of our case against the FDA,” ADF stated. “Current standards leave women to do their own chemical abortions - the FDA does NOT require the 'procedure' to be ‘done by a licensed healthcare professional.’” On March 4, 16 state attorneys general demanded that YouTube stop placing “misleading” abortion banners on pro-life videos, including the ADF’s video.

2) X imposed 81 Community Notes fact checks in February. One platform that is certainly not going for the subtle censorship approach is X. MRC Free Speech America logged a staggering 81 Community Notes fact checks on users from across the political spectrum and around the world in its unique CensorTrack database for the month of February. Accounts that received Community Notes on posts included X owner Elon Musk, the New York Post, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), commentator Benny Johnson, Russian state-owned media TASS, COVID-19 critic Dr. Richard Urso, commentator Ian Miles Cheong, Israeli speaker Hananya Naftali, CBS News, Democrat presidential candidate Marianne Williamson and popular political commentator account DC Draino.

X owner Elon Musk shared that any post with a Community Note added to it will be demonetized. The Community Notes account on X also posted that notices will be pushed to users who previously engaged with a post when a Community Note is added to it later.

3) X suspends account of Russian dissident’s widow, claims error. X suspended the account of Yulia Navalnaya, widow of the late Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, on Feb. 19. The reportedly mistaken suspension was reversed after only 45 minutes, according to The Daily Mail. X Safety later claimed in a post that the censorship of Navalnaya was an error. “Our platform's defense mechanism against manipulation and spam mistakenly flagged @yulia_navalnaya as violating our rules,” X Safety posted on the platform.

The reason for the initial suspension remains unspecified. X does prohibit users from buying followers, and with Navalnaya’s account suddenly attracting 95,000 followers within just 24 hours of its existence (per a screenshot), the account might have been mistakenly flagged for buying followers. Yulia had posted a video on her X account before the suspension in which she accused authoritarian Russian President Vladimir Putin of being guilty of her husband’s sudden death in prison.

4) Facebook slaps fact check on climate-related post from author and energy expert. Author Alex Epstein posted an image from his book Fossil Future. The image included charts with evidence showing that “[t]he impact on sea levels of global warming to date has paled in comparison to local factors.” Facebook, which has a track record of censoring information surrounding the climate debate that goes against the left’s narrative, imposed a fact-check label on the post. The label merely invites users to “See information from third-party fact-checkers.” The expanded notice asserts that Epstein’s post contains “False information. Independent fact-checkers say this information has no basis in fact. You can choose whether to see it.”

The Facebook note links to a fact-check article from the Australian Associated Press (AAP): “Post deeply wrong about rate of rising sea levels.” The post fact-checked in the article, which was not the same as Epstein’s, had claimed, “Of course the most important thing to note is that these are all straight lines, i.e. there has been NO INCREASE in the RATE of sea level rise (which has been taking place since the last ice age).” This was not the same as Epstein’s argument that global warming is not the cause of sea level increases. According to Facebook, users fail to click through fact-check interstitials 95 percent of the time. 

5) Big Tech companies to censor election content in the European Union (EU). Ahead of the EU elections in June, multiple Big Tech companies, including Google, TikTok, and Meta released announcements of their planned election interference. Communist Chinese government-tied TikTok, for example, bragged about its 2023 censorship and committed to more. TikTok described a team of 6,000 EU content moderators, fact checking, content removal, “media literacy campaigns” to counter alleged “misinformation” and policies targeted at artificial intelligence (AI). Google, meanwhile, declared its aims to collaborate with government authorities, to promote selected sources and to use AI to enhance its ability to censor and control the information that voters can access. MRC Free Speech America has previously exposed Google for its election interference back in 2022 and again in the 2024 U.S. presidential primaries.

Not to be outdone, Meta — parent company of Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp — announced its own EU election censorship plan, replete with AI, fact checkers, and an Elections Operations Center. This came soon after Meta President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg accidentally admitted on CNBC News that a majority of the company’s employees are involved in censorship activities.