Congress Looks at Social Media Censorship

April 28th, 2018 2:30 PM

The House Judiciary Committee recently held a hearing on social media filtering practices. Unsurprisingly, a Pew Research Center study found that “Today around seven-in-ten Americans use social media to connect with one another, engage with news content, share information and entertain themselves.” With so many Americans on these platforms, we should know how the platforms determine the content they’re sharing. 

The censorship of conservative voices by social media has become more frequent and the consequences more serious. Social media companies have repeatedly censored, removed, or “shadow banned” conservative journalists, news organizations, and media outlets that do not adhere to their political views. 

Google’s new fact-checking feature appears to target conservative websites. Several conservative-leaning outlets – such as the Daily Caller – are routinely “vetted” by Google for their content. Equally partisan sites such as Vox, The Huffington Post, Daily Kos, Mother Jones, and other left-wing outlets and blogs are not given the same treatment. 

In March, Twitter censored a Drudge Report tweet of the 2020 campaign slogan, “Keep America Great” as “politically sensitive content.” 

Unfortunately, we can expect to see a lot more of these examples in the future. Facebook recently announced this month that it would cut news articles’ share of the newsfeed from five percent to four percent. Facebook would boost certain “trusted” news outlets and suppress other less trustworthy sources. The term “trustworthy” is defined by Facebook, of course. 

A tech website, “The Outline,” found that the algorithm changes implemented by Facebook have disproportionately harmed conservative publishers on its social media platform. They’re getting fewer readers while their liberal counterparts haven’t been impacted to the same degree. 

And who are making the decisions? The Media Research Center found that liberal Twitter advisors outnumber conservatives 12 to 1. Twelve U.S. members of Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council – which helps guide its policies – are liberal and only one is conservative. 

Also alarming are the guidelines being written by these companies to define what is “hate speech” and what is “fake news.” Facebook’s newly published Community Standards, which guide what content is allowed and what is prohibited, define these terms for the American people. 

The Media Research Center has outlined how these “hate speech” guidelines can target conservatives. For example, “expressions of contempt” such as “I oppose gay marriage” could put social conservatives at risk. 

These new guidelines appear to protect illegal immigrants. Saying illegal immigrants should return to their country of origin would result in a violation of guidelines on Facebook. And, if someone called an illegal immigrant who has not paid taxes but gets government benefits a “free rider,” that would be considered hate speech according to Facebook. 

According to a 2017 Gallup poll, almost 60% of Americans are worried about the problem of illegal immigration. So if those Americans were to post their concerns on Facebook, they would be accused of “hate speech.” A majority of Americans could be censored under the guidelines of Facebook.

As private companies, social media can censor or suppress anyone they want. That’s their First Amendment right to freedom of speech. But they should be held accountable by the American people. And the public should realize they are getting slanted information. 

If social media companies continue to silence conservative viewpoints, millions of Americans should either support alternative platforms or boycott the biased media.