Big Tech’s continued censorship of free speech on platforms creates real-world harm, not just to the users being censored, but to anyone who should have seen the censored messages. Nowhere is that more clear than when Big Tech platforms either silence or place spin on posts by candidates in what is otherwise nothing short of election interference.
Since MRC Free Speech America began tracking secondhand censorship in the first quarter of 2022, we have counted a total of at least 881,700,573 times that users have been harmed through the tactics used by Big Tech platforms. MRC Free Speech America researchers recorded 231 documented cases of censorship in the second quarter (Q2) of 2023, down from 363 cases in the first quarter (Q1).
Beginning with Q2 we began tracking Twitter’s Community Notes feature as a form of censorship much like fact checks. (Twitter was re-branded as X in July.) Community Notes represent Twitter’s efforts to influence the perception of certain tweets and stand as a gatekeeper between content creators and their followers. This feature was used heavily on tweets from accounts with millions of followers. Therefore, the total secondhand censorship for Q2 jumped up 489 percent from Q1, with Big Tech harming users 484,498,858 times during the second quarter of 2023. This number follows the 82,249,700 times that users were harmed through secondhand censorship in the first quarter.
Twitter’s rampant use of Community Notes touched heavily on issues related to the presidential campaigns. As a result, users following accounts that were censored over content related to campaign issues suffered the most in Q2. Transgenderism also continued to be one of the topics enduring the most harm from secondhand censorship in the second quarter of 2023, surpassing its first quarter numbers.
MRC defines secondhand censorship as the number of times that users on social media had information withheld from them.
MRC Free Speech America continues to track secondhand censorship across major social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, LinkedIn and Spotify.
This secondhand censorship report only scratches the surface of the harm that occurred during the second quarter of 2023, as it only covers documented cases found in MRC Free Speech America’s CensorTrack database.
See this link for a sampling of our second-quarter 2023 secondhand censorship numbers.
The second quarter of 2023 was the first time that CensorTrack.org began tracking Community Notes, which resulted in a marked increase in the secondhand censorship number.
Twitter rolled out its Community Notes feature globally beginning in December of 2022 with the stated goal of creating “a better informed world by empowering people on Twitter to collaboratively add context to potentially misleading Tweets.” The feature, initially called “Birdwatch,” pre-dates Elon Musk's takeover of the company and was tested for over a year before its widespread release.
Twitter claims that “Community Notes do not represent Twitter’s viewpoint and cannot be edited or modified by our teams.” However, Twitter has ultimate control over who is allowed to create the notes as well as the guidelines around use of the notes, which it can change at any time. Simply by choosing to add Community Notes as a feature, Twitter has exerted influence over how tweets with notes are perceived, which is a form of censorship.
Indeed, censorship has had an oversized impact. Twitter’s Community Notes are responsible for users of the platform having information kept from them nearly 423 million times out of the total 484,498,858 times Big Tech harmed users through secondhand censorship in Q2. Without including Community Notes, the overall secondhand censorship effect would have decreased in the second quarter from 82,249,700 in Q1 to 61,537,958 in Q2. While the decrease in the absence of Twitter’s Community Notes is certainly encouraging, the influence of the program cannot be ignored, especially as the feature has tried to shape how users view tweets from presidential campaigns.
Community Notes had the greatest impact on followers of President Joe Biden’s official accounts, several of which have more than 30 million followers. His followers made up the largest segment of users harmed through secondhand censorship in the second quarter. MRC Free Speech America documented nine tweets that were censored by Community Notes from just one of Biden’s accounts. This totaled 283,600,000 times Twitter harmed users through secondhand censorship.
Each Community Note begins by stating that “[r]eaders added context they thought people might want to know.” In one example, a tweet from @JoeBiden claimed, “I make no apologies for being the most pro-union president in American history.” The Community Note read, “On December 22, 2022, President Biden signed a bill to block the railroad union from striking.” In another example, the @POTUS account tweeted, “12,700,000 jobs,” with an attached infographic that read “12,700,000 jobs added under President Biden.” The Community Note read, “While Biden’s claim of 12.7 million new jobs in his term is accurate, the large majority of these new jobs can be attributed to economic recovery after COVID-19.”
But Twitter has also applied Community Notes to other campaign accounts. The @TrumpWarRoom Twitter account tweeted, “Fake News @marcthiessen is spreading outright lies. President Trump won BIG in Iowa. And will win again in 2024.” The Community Note read, “Ted Cruz won the 2016 Iowa Caucus with 27.6%. Donald Trump finished second with 24.3%.” This note does not address Trump’s wins in the general elections of 2016 or 2020. The Trump War Room Twitter account suffered a total of 23,400,000 users harmed through secondhand censorship just from the 13 Community Notes documented at CensorTrack.org.
But Twitter is not the only Big Tech platform engaging in election interference. YouTube has deleted no fewer than seven videos that featured interviews with Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., while Instagram also temporarily banned a new account Kennedy created on the platform. The platform even placed a “Context” label on a Donald J. Trump campaign ad that explained why Trump is the only candidate who can "make America great again" starting on day one. The YouTube “context” label discussed the results of the 2020 election, despite the ad not mentioning the 2020 election. LinkedIn also censored Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy’s account. The platform restricted his account, reportedly citing “misleading or inaccurate information” in several of his posts relating to climate change and President Joe Biden’s relationship with China. LinkedIn claimed this action was taken “in error” and reversed the censorship.
MRC Free Speech America continues to monitor Big Tech’s ongoing war waged against users who post content that does not affirm the left’s so-called “transgender” ideology. Unfortunately, although this type of censorship has lessened on some platforms, it is unlikely to go away completely any time soon. Since we began tracking secondhand censorship, Big Tech harmed users on content critical of the left’s “transgender” narrative more than ever in Q2.
MRC Free Speech America tallied at least 36,830,787 times that Big Tech harmed users by hindering them from seeing content critiquing so-called “transgenderism” in the second quarter of 2023. This number is higher than the number of transgender-related secondhand censorship for Q1, which previously showed the highest numbers for that category. Q1 of 2023 saw 21,471,808 times users were harmed through secondhand censorship.
Censorship of posts critical of the "transgender" ideology exploded in Q1 as a result of the infamous "Trans Day of Vengeance," making the number of times Big Tech harmed users through secondhand censorship skyrocket. But in Q2, Big Tech harmed an even greater number of users who criticized “transgender” ideology. This would still be true even in the absence of the 12,900,000 users harmed through Twitter’s Community Notes feature censoring tweets related to “transgenderism.” This was due mostly to Twitter’s temporary censorship of Matt Walsh’s “What Is A Woman” documentary. The incident accounted for no fewer than 9,928,100 times Big Tech harmed users through secondhand censorship. Musk helped counteract the temporary censorship and secondhand censorship effect when he tweeted out the video, leading to it being viewed over 180 million times.
Secondhand Censorship Totals by Platform
In Q2 2023, Twitter again surpassed all other platforms, having harmed the most users through the secondhand censorship effect. Including Twitter’s Community Notes incidents, the total secondhand censorship effect for Twitter in Q2 amounted to 433,630,261 times the platform prevented users from viewing tweets unencumbered.
The secondhand censorship effect of YouTube’s Q2 censorship amounted to 43,982,844 times the platform users harmed users, enough for second place. Without Twitter’s Community Notes, YouTube would have harmed more users via secondhand censorship by a margin of over 33 million.
Facebook's sister platform Instagram came in third for Q2, having harmed users 5,525,811 times. The secondhand censorship effect of Facebook’s draconian speech suppression dramatically dropped by over 30 million in Q2 compared with Q1. The platform harmed users 372,133 times, making Facebook fourth when compared to its Big Tech counterparts.
Secondhand censorship represents the domino effect of how Big Tech harms users with its efforts to silence or reframe messages shared by users. Big Tech censorship of campaigns, candidates and/or of important policies or cultural events is tantamount to election interference. Americans must be allowed the freedom to speak their minds and to do their own research and come to their own conclusions. When Big Tech places its thumb on the scales through the use of things like fact checks, Community Notes, content deletion or account suspensions, free speech — and by extension, American democracy — is under attack. All such suppression of constitutionally-protected speech and election interference must be called out and stopped.
MRC Free Speech America calls on Americans to push tech companies to end their efforts of election interference.
For the purposes of this report, MRC Free Speech America researchers examined the CensorTrack.org data from the second quarter of 2023, analyzing the censored accounts and aggregating the follower counts belonging to each account targeted by Big Tech.
Conservatives are under attack. Contact your representatives and demand that Big Tech be held to account to mirror the First Amendment while providing transparency, clarity on so-called hate speech and equal footing for conservatives. If you have been censored, contact us using CensorTrack’s contact form, and help us hold Big Tech accountable.