Earlier today (May 16), the Trump White House rolled out a “Tech Bias Sharing Tool.” The site allows people to report to the White House if they feel like Facebook or Twitter has wrongly suspended their accounts or had posts censored or banned.
The webpage comes after Trump and many right-wing leaders have accused social media platforms of political bias and censorship.
For several months, social media companies have pushed back on the idea of political bias on their platforms. Mark Zuckerberg met with conservative leaders a few months ago to report that Facebook didn’t suppress conservative stories in its Trending Topics tool.
But despite Facebook’s efforts, many conservatives still believe political bias occurs on the platforms. In April, President Trump held a meeting with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. The White House initially scheduled that meeting to discuss the conversation around the opioid epidemic online going into the 2020 election. Instead, President Trump used the meeting to talk with Dorsey about losing followers, a consequence of Twitter’s removal of spam bot accounts.
Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., also spoke out against the alleged bias and banning of conservative figures. When Facebook made the decision to ban far-right accounts like Alex Jones and Laura Loomer, Trump Jr. wrote on Twitter, that “the purposeful & calculated silencing of conservatives by @facebook & the rest of the Big Tech monopoly men should terrify everyone.”
As The Verge points out, NewsWhip, an analytics firm that tracks top publishers on Facebook, reports that Fox News is consistently the top publisher on the platform. Either way, the White House has gone ahead with its Tech Bias Sharing Tool.
“SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS should advance FREEDOM OF SPEECH,” says the Tech Bias Sharing Tool page, which is just a simple Typeform. “Yet too many Americans have seen their accounts suspended, banned, or fraudulently reported for unclear ‘violations’ of user policies.”
“No matter your views, if you suspect political bias caused such an action to be taken against you, share your story with President Trump.”
…or Data Gathering Mechanism?
When you go into the tool, a series of informational prompts greet you. These include your name, zip, email, if you’re over 18-years-old, and so on. Then the prompts ask you to hand over your social media handle. It then asks you to upload screenshots of posts that were removed. The form ends with a question asking users what year the Declaration of Independence was signed “just to confirm you aren’t a robot.”
The form also prompts users to sign up for Trump newsletters while stating that the whole tool is for “information gathering only.” So basically, Trump is using this to gather voter data, most likely for use in the 2020 election.
While Google and Facebook haven’t responded to the Tech Bias tool, Twitter said they “enforce the Twitter Rules impartially for all users, regardless of their background or political affiliation. We are constantly working to improve our systems and will continue to be transparent in our efforts.”
White House Cites Free Speech for Christchurch Call
Elsewhere, the White House is also citing free speech to defend other questionable decisions.
Also on Wednesday, the Trump Administration declined to sign the Christchurch Call. The initiative is an effort to restrict and prevent online extremism. It comes in the wake of shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand which left 51 people dead. So far, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Microsoft and 18 other governments have signed the nonbinding agreement.
Governments will answer the call by pledging to combat online extremism through new regulations and working with social media companies. The White House declined to sign the document as it claimed that signing the agreement would present constitutional concerns (and they won’t regulate social media companies unless they unfairly target conservatives).
“We continue to be proactive in our efforts to counter terrorist content online while also continuing to respect freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” the White House told the Washington Post. “Further, we maintain that the best tool to defeat terrorist speech is productive speech, and thus we emphasize the importance of promoting credible, alternative narratives as the primary means by which we can defeat terrorist messaging.”
For their part, Facebook has already taken steps to prevent users from publishing extreme content on the platform. Yesterday, the company made changes to Facebook Live. The company said it will ban users from livestreaming for 30 days if found breaking Facebook’s policies.
A spokesperson for Facebook said that the Christchurch shooter would have been unable to livestream with that rule in place.