On Wednesday, Media Research Center President Brent Bozell and other conservative leaders released an open letter to Attorney General Bill Barr. The letter highlighted the deep concerns they have about tech giants Google, Twitter and Facebook and the need for transparency and a respect for free speech.
Here is the letter in full:
February 26, 2020
Attorney General William Barr
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
Dear Attorney General Barr,
Last week you pointed out that “No longer are technology companies the underdog upstarts.’ ‘They have become titans of U.S. industry.’” With such power you said, “valid questions have been raised as to whether Section 230′s broad immunity is still needed.”
As conservatives, we do not argue for onerous regulations or burdensome federal legislation. However, as the Media Research Center and the Free Speech Alliance (FSA) have shown, the concerns you raised are quite justified. Consider:
- In August 2018, Google whistleblower Zachary Vorhies shared several documents with James O’Keefe and Project Veritas. These documents included a document with a Google Now blacklist, a Google block list, and hundreds of other pages of material from internal Google memos, emails, and guidelines. These policies and lists primarily targeted conservatives. This allegedly impacted the app and not all Google searches.
- In October of 2018, an 85-page internal Google document leaked to Breitbart argued that in order to prevent certain political events, tech companies would have to start censoring web content. Google’s analysis described a shift from American free speech policy toward one that is more in line with the European tradition: promoting civility, dignity, and editing.
- In January of this year, Twitter censored one of President Trump’s political ads based on his comments at the March for Life. Twitter reportedly labeled the video with a “sensitive content” warning, suggesting it may contain offensive or potentially graphic imagery, despite the fact that it merely showed babies, political candidates, and marches.
- In December of 2019. Twitter suspended the pro-life news organization LifeSite for violating its “rules” after they tweeted an article about Jonathan “Jessica” Yaniv, a biological male, a transgender activist who recently complained that gynecologists wouldn’t see him as a patient. Twitter claimed that the tweet violated its rules, but didn’t specify which ones. Twitter cites three main categories in its rules: safety, privacy, and authenticity. The tweet about Yaniv was public knowledge, as it cited a tweet Yaniv posted himself. It was authentic, it was not “platform manipulation,” impersonation, or a copyright infringement. The tweet did not “promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people,” which Twitter says it prohibits.
- In August of 2019, Facebook notified the pro-life organization Live Action that two of the company’s videos were marked as “false” by fact-checkers. As a result, Live Action was informed that the page’s outreach would be “limited.” The fact-check, which included opinions from Dr. Daniel Grossman and Dr. Robyn Schickler, stated that abortion was defined as “a procedure to end a pregnancy.” Grossman is on the board for the pro-abortion NARAL, and was a consultant for Planned Parenthood. The message of the videos is based on the opinions of 2,500 pro-life obstetricians and gynecologists. In the end, Mark Zuckerberg admitted there was clearly bias on the part of Facebook against Live Action.
- The pro-life Susan B. Anthony List has had ads deleted from its Facebook page a total of six times, according to the Daily Caller. On November 1, Facebook apologized for deleting one ad, saying that it was a “mistake,” but then turned around and deleted another ad running in Montana. Previously, Facebook had deleted two ads that were running in Tennessee, Iowa, and Arizona. Eventually, Facebook apologized and restored the ad.
As you are well aware, in August of 2019, the White House found that at least 15,000 people had been directly affected by political censorship online. Indeed, the MRC also has been tracking widespread instances of conservative voices being censored on the social media platform ever since we published our seminal report in April 2018 on the subject: Censored! How Online Media Companies Are Suppressing Conservative Speech.This Special Report was cited four times during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on July 17, 2018.
Since the release of that report, the Media Research Center has organized the Free Speech Alliance (FSA) -- a coalition of more than 60 organizations representing tens of millions of Americans, dedicated to combating the censorship of their voices on major social media platforms.
Each of the major social media platforms has an oversized share of influence on the public conversation. Google is just one example. Over 90 percent of all search queries worldwide are done through its technology. Google, by itself, has the power to alter the public discourse across the world. According to research psychologist Robert Epstein, “Google’s search algorithm can easily shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by 20 percent or more—up to 80 percent in some demographic groups.”
As conservatives, we shy away from advocating for government interference in the free market. However, as you and other leading public policy officials consider the path going forward, we ask you to consider the principles we have laid out as best practices for dealing with the problems raised by these social media platforms. These principles are:
- Transparency: We need detailed information so everyone can see if liberal groups and users are being treated the same as those on the right. Social media companies operate in a black-box environment, only releasing anecdotes about reports on content and users when they think it necessary.
- Clarity on ‘Hate Speech’: “Hate speech” is a common concern among social media companies, but no two firms define it the same way. Their definitions are vague and open to interpretation, and their interpretation often looks like an opportunity to silence conservative thought.
- Truly diverse hiring practices: Top social media firms, such as Google and YouTube, have chosen to work with dishonest groups that are actively opposed to the conservative movement, including the Southern Poverty Law Center. Those companies need to make equal room for conservative groups as advisers to offset this bias.
- Mirroring the First Amendment: Tech giants should afford their users nothing less than the free speech and free exercise of religion embodied in the First Amendment as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court. That standard would enable the rightful blocking of content that threatens violence or contain obscenity, without trampling on free speech liberties that have long made the United States a beacon for freedom.
We will continue to champion these principles and fight against the censorship of conservative voices on the major social media platforms. We applaud your attention to one of the most pressing issues facing our country. We’ll be happy to meet with you to discuss this important issue further.
L. Brent Bozell III
Founder and President
The Media Research Center
C. Preston Noell III
Tradition, Family, Property, Inc.
Vice President and Managing Editor
General Counsel of the National Center for Public Policy Research
Founder and President of the Center for Security Policy
David N. Bossie
President, Citizens United
New York Young Republican Club
Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights
Penny Young Nance
CEO and President
Concerned Women for America
Free Our Internet
Hon. George K Rasley Jr
Director of Policy and Government Affairs
American Principles Project
Lady Brigitte Gabriel
Founder & Chairman
ACT For America
James L. Martin
60 Plus Association
Mark J. Fitzgibbons
President of Corporate Affairs
American Target Advertising
Richard A. Viguerie
Chairman & Founder
American Target Advertising
Mat Staver, Esq.
Founder and Chairman
Director of Governmental Affairs
American Family Association
Founder and President
Free Our Internet
Jonathan M. Alexandre, Esq.
Senior Counsel for Governmental Affairs
Liberty Counsel Action
Saulius “Saul” Anuzis
60 Plus Association.
Conservative Partnership Institute
Rod D. Martin
Founder and CEO
The Martin Organization, Inc.
Intercollegiate Studies Institute
Co-founder & Chief Creative Officer
The Radiance Foundation
Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin (US Army-Ret.)
Executive Vice President
Family Research Council
Jenny Beth Martin
Tea Party Patriots Action
Center for Military Readiness
The Heartland Institute
Chairman, Women for America First