Is censorship towards conservatives on social media platforms really happening? With the intent on getting to the bottom of this question, I delved into the social media platforms of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Google.
According to an LA Times opinion piece, social media platforms “are free to make their own rules on what speech to allow and what speech to block because they are private companies, not government actors subject to the 1st Amendment’s anti-censorship rules.” However, it has been the opinion of some that these platforms, and specifically Twitter in these two articles, can be considered “‘a privately owned public square,’ and that political speech expressed in that public forum ought to receive First Amendment protections” even though they are “told by the platform that [the] account violated its rules.”
Each platform has its own set of community guidelines that a content creator is supposed to follow. The guidelines for Facebook and Instagram are mostly the same as they are owned by the same people. Facebook has been transparent in all of the changes they make to the their platform. To the same effect, Google has taken over YouTube and so there would be similar guidelines applied to both. Since Google is a search engine, they enforce their standards through algorithms and webmaster rules which help you index and rank your website to be used in the algorithms. Twitter seems to update their rules whenever a large group of people demand changes. Most of the Twitter guidelines and rules are listed under the category “Safety,” which regulates speech the most.
Conservatives Who Have Been ‘Censored’
The first recognized person to complain about conservative censorship was most likely Chuck Johnson. Chuck is a blogger from California who was well-known in 2015 as a “political troll.” He was banned from Twitter on May 26, 2015 “after asking for donations to help ‘take out’ an activist, DeRay McKesson.” (Politico) “Twitter emailed Johnson to say that his account had been suspended for violating Twitter rules “around participating in targeted abuse” and that it “will not be restored.” At the time, the guidelines covering this content would have been about abuse and harassment. Chuck Johnson told Slate that “‘Take out,’ is just his metaphor of choice for digging up dirt on a subject, and it’s pretty standard political invective.'”
Milo Yiannopoulos was the next well-known agitator to be banned by Twitter on July 19, 2016. The ban came after Milo made comments about Leslie Jones and the 2016 Ghostbusters movie. Milo’s twitter profile was self-titled “The most fabulous supervillain on the internet.” Four months before the ban Milo made an inflammatory observation about the female actors, “Fat and ugly, ugly, ugly, fat”. If this wasn’t enough to get him banned, then neither should have his comments later on. On July 18 he still hadn’t been in direct contact with Leslie and he tweeted an article he wrote about his “Problem with Ghostbusters.” A group on Reddit screen captured the direct twitter exchange between Milo and Leslie. Onlinesense later had an interview with Milo to get his perspective. Leslie reported Milo and the next day he received an email from twitter that his account was permanently suspended.
USA Today reported that twitter further put out a statement, that same day, “that Twitter is reviewing its conduct policy, which says that Twitter does ‘not tolerate behavior that crosses the line into abuse, including behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user’s voice.'”
You may perceive Alex Jones, out of these conservatives, as being the most intense, loud-mouthed, crazy of them all. I would dare to say that Alex has been bombarded the most from these social platforms. On August 6, 2018, CNN informed that “YouTube, Facebook and Apple have taken steps to remove content associated with InfoWars and its founder Alex Jones.” More drastically, YouTube even removed channels associated with InfoWars and Alex Jones that had higher viewer ratings. A YouTube spokesperson said, “When users violate … policies repeatedly, like our policies against hate speech and harassment or our terms prohibiting circumvention of our enforcement measures, we terminate their accounts.” Facebook said, “Upon review, we have taken it down for glorifying violence … and using dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants, which violates our hate speech policies.” Because of this public event, Facebook released an article talking about their community standards.
Earlier this year in May, Facebook and Instagram did a mass ban on conservatives Laura Loomer, Milo Yiannopoulos, Alex Jones, and Paul Joseph Watson labeling them “dangerous individuals.” Conferring to the Facebook Community Standards on ‘Dangerous Individuals and Organizations,’ Facebook does “not allow any organizations or individuals that proclaim a violent mission or are engaged in violence, from having a presence on Facebook. This includes: Terrorist activity, Organized hate, Mass or serial murder, Human trafficking and Organized violence or criminal activity.” This, of course, also applies to Instagram.
Facebook justified their decision saying, “‘We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology,’ a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement provided to CNN Business.” “‘The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today.’” The spokesperson added, “such factors include whether the person or organization has ever called for violence against individuals based on race, ethnicity, or national origin; whether the person has been identified with a hateful ideology; whether they use hate speech or slurs in their about section on their social media profiles; and whether they have had pages or groups removed from Facebook for violating hate speech rules. In some instances, when Facebook bans an individual or organization, it also restricts others from expressing praise or support for them on its platforms. The company continues to view such action as the correct approach.”
According to Alex Jones, of the many platforms he has been banned from, “we were never notified we’d been banned, or were informed we’d violated terms of service, while never provided examples of our alleged offensive content.” One example he could provide was a Termination of Service email from Disqus.
Before Laura was banned from Facebook and Instagram three months ago, she was permanently suspended from Twitter. On November 21, 2018, Twitter contacted her and told her specifically what she was violating and what Twitter post was the cause. Being that her post said specific statements about Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar, her content was deemed “hateful conduct.” She is a Jewish journalist who is against anti-Semitism.
She was banned from Facebook and Instagram two days after having had protested at Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey’s house, for Twitter banning multiple conservatives and one liberal, and posted the content on those two platforms. The video can be seen at the Twitter handle @JewishVoice. The timing of the ban has caused Laura to feel even further that only conservatives are being targeted for content against platform guidelines. Laura is now very upset that nothing has been done by the current administration to fight against these platforms.
Even though James Woods hasn’t been permanently suspended from Twitter, he has received notifications from Twitter about his content. James said, “Twitter demanded that I rescind my tweet paraphrasing Emerson,” Woods said in a statement to The Daily Wire. “It now seems they have chosen to delete that tweet from my account without my permission. Until free speech is allowed on Twitter, I will not be permitted to participate in our democracy with my voice. As long as Jack Dorsey remains the coward he seems to be, my Twitter days are in the past.” James Woods has been off Twitter of his own volition since April 19, 2019.
Paul Joseph Watson
Paul talked about his May 2, 2019 ban from Facebook and Instagram in an article on his website saying, “They provided no evidence whatsoever that I had behaved in a “dangerous” manner or violated any of their policies”. In “online discussion, some have postulated that Watson’s ties to Infowars played a role in Facebook’s decision to boot him from the platform.” An example to corroborate this idea comes from CNN reporter Oliver Darcy who comments that Paul Joseph Watson is only “someone who has built a career pushing conspiracy theories” and presumably while being an editor at InfoWars. Watson replied back in a retweet, “This is manifestly false. Ten years ago I had some silly beliefs. I didn’t ‘build a career’ on them. I built a career calling out liars like you who work for CNN.” So far, Paul hasn’t had any violations on Twitter and he can be located at handle @PrisonPlanet.
Project Veritas/James O’Keefe
Like James Woods, Project Veritas has only ever been temporarily suspended. On June 12, 2019 Twitter suspended the Project Veritas account for twelve hours concerning an investigation Project Veritas did about Pinterest. The reason for the suspension was “You may not publish or post other people’s private information without their express authorization and permission.” Later that day, YouTube censored a video about the Pinterest investigation. YouTube states the video was censored and “no longer available due to a privacy claim by a third party.” YouTube again, on June 24th, censored a video this time about an investigation on Google giving the reason again, for video removal, of a third party claim to privacy. Project Veritas is now suspended from Reddit. They received no notification and only found out when trying to post about the Google investigation. Breitbart.com has an article listing all of these suspensions.
Veritas also found that YouTube blacklists terms to prevent related videos from appearing. YouTube made a statement that it would be suspending ads for an election in Ireland to protect “election integrity” against foreign influencers. Because of what Project Veritas found, Breitbart questioned YouTube who said, “We’ve been very public that for a wide range of news and information queries, we have algorithms that are designed to surface authoritative content of all political viewpoints. This helps prevent spam and conspiracy theories from surfacing prominently on our site. In the midst of the Irish referendum on abortion, our systems brought authoritative content to the top of our search results for abortion-related queries. This happened for both pro-choice and pro-life queries, there was no distinction.”
Censorship Of Liberals
Facebook and Instagram have banned Louis Farrakhan, during the mass purge of users, due to anti-Semitic language and has also been labeled a “dangerous individual.”
World Socialist Web Site
The World Socialist Web Site wrote an article in 2017 asking Google to stop blacklisting its site. Five months prior, Google did an algorithm update that affected the traffic of a few websites, though no one can be sure. This may be why WSWS was having problems. The website Truthdig also weighed in on the mass blacklisting after a senate committee hearing, held on January 17, 2018, with the head of global policy management of Facebook.
Concern Of Liberal Censorship
Alexander Blum, from Areo magazine, pondered on the future possibilities of the political left being censored. He mentions that deplatforming “will inevitably be used against leftists the moment the wind changes, and a company decides that the perceived hard left must be censored too.”
Tweets By Liberals That Have Not Been Banned
Despite being banned from Facebook and Instagram, Louis Farrakhan has not been banned from twitter, even though he makes allusions to hateful behavior like Laura Loomer did of Ilhan Omar.
While James Woods was being suspended for his paraphrased quote and hashtag, Bette Midler has been posting poems and creating hashtags about Trump that would violate Twitter’s abusive behavior rules. She has done this so many times that it is a wonder she hasn’t had repeated suspension notifications and been permanently suspended from Twitter.
There are also organizations, like Antifa, that use social media to help take justice into their own hands to combat what they perceive to be their enemy. Facebook has recently updated their anti-violence policy but according to this article there are still Antifa groups on Facebook. The Antifa groups are also on Instagram and Twitter. There is even an Antifa user on Facebook and Twitter that checks for fake Antifa groups so Antifa members know who to trust. Maybe Facebook doesn’t consider Antifa a hate group. The Southern Poverty Law Center certainly doesn’t think so and they have been considered, by Google, as reputable enough in who they label as a hate group to help create a Hate News Index with them. The president of the SPLC, Richard Cohen, said in a Homeland Security Committee Hearing, that Google’s “algorithm is flawed or easily manipulated,” and that they don’t want google to “prioritize hate groups.” Of course, Mr. Cohen is only talking about groups that the SPLC has determined to be “hate groups.”
Is Banning Really Based On Enforcing Correct Morals?
There have been some observations that these platforms make changes only if it affects their mode of profit or if many people protest to the extent that something “needs” to be done. An article from Slate, in 2015, reported that “Twitter CEO Dick Costolo wrote an email to staff acknowledging that Twitter risks losing ‘core user after core user by not addressing simple trolling issues that they face every day.’” He promised to start banning trolls “right and left.” Costolo’s statement was seen as a positive step toward eliminating harassment on Twitter, but it’s a little ominous that he only seemed concerned about abuse insofar as it affected the platform’s “core users.” This gives the impression that they want to keep well-known people so their platform stays relevant. Slate also asked, when Chuck Johnson was permanently suspended, does this mean “that when journalists complain, Twitter acts?”
To that end, Paul Joseph Watson alleged in 2017, when talking about YouTube, “that ‘mobs’ of people with opposing views have been able to get his videos censored under tougher treatment rules by reporting him en masse.”
American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney Vera Eidelman told Politico that “Every time Facebook makes the choice to remove content, a single company is exercising an unchecked power to silence individuals and remove them from what has become an indispensable platform for the speech of billions.” She went on to say, “When speech is censored by private parties based on the content of that speech, there’s nothing stopping Facebook — or YouTube or Twitter — from using that same power to censor organizations fighting to protect abortion rights or individuals fighting against climate change tomorrow.”
Has The Issue Been Addressed By The Government?
There have been some developments from the government in regards to social media censorship. Facebook and Twitter were questioned by the Senate committee about censorship on their platforms. A Google executive was also questioned by a Senate subcommittee “on alleged censorship bias.” Senator Josh Hawley warned the tech giants that they should stop censoring conservatives or government will get involved. And Senators Bill Cassidy and Ted Cruz have filed a “resolution to designate antifa as a domestic terrorist organization.”
There does appear to be more suppressing of speech toward conservatives than liberals. Both sides of the political spectrum have concerns about the apparent power and bias of these platforms. It may be possible that these companies are only doing a poor job of handling actual 1st Amendment violations and removing non-violations along the way. The Senate has made a good start by asking questions but as Alexander Blum says in his article, “While specific ideas about regulating big tech are still in their infancy, the current solutions are insufficient. The question of private and public spaces, in the commercial internet era, requires more thought.”