Censorship by social media giants is the new front in the “war” on conservative thought — and conservatives are badly losing it, according to a comprehensive study released Monday by a media watchdog group.
The Media Research Center (MRC) examined Facebook, Google and Twitter and found that all three are using their enormous power to diminish conservatives.
“Voices are being silenced, opinions are being censored, and conservative media are being suppressed. These tech companies claim they provide platforms to connect people and share ideas,” Media Research Center president Brent Bozell said in a statement.
“However, when the only ideas permitted are from one side, any prospect of intellectual discourse dies. If these platforms merely serve as an echo chamber of liberal talking points, everyone loses. Our country is divided, and limiting free speech only makes matters worse.”
Highlights from the report include these four points:
1.) Twitter censors the most. The social media site restricts ads from abortion opponents and took down a video by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) announcing her campaign for the Senate. Project Veritas caught Twitter staffers admitting on hidden camera that they had been censoring conservatives through a technique known as “shadow banning,” where users’ content is not widely seen. The report accuses Twitter of attempting to manipulate election-related tweets that used the hashtags #PodestaEmails and #DNCLeak.
2.) Facebook has hidden conservative content. The study cites a 2016 Gizmodo article detailing how news “curators” at the social media company had been instructed to hide conservative content from its “trending” section. Blacklisted topics included Mitt Romney, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). On the flip side, according to the report, Black Lives Matter content had been placed into the trending section even though user interest did not justify it.
3.) Google’s search algorithm aids Democrats. The report notes that Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google and YouTube, assisted 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It pointed to another study showing that election-related searches benefited Clinton and other Democratic candidates. The MRC report also cites the company’s firing of engineer James Damore for suggesting in a memo that gender differences explained why Silicon Valley has more male than female tech workers.
4.) YouTube is removing conservative videos. YouTube moderators have shut down entire conservative channels — “by mistake,” according to the company — and have removed videos with right-wing views. YouTube’s special “Creators for Change” section praises people working for “social change” and even highlights the work of a 9/11 “truther,” the report states.
Report co-author Dan Gainor, vice president of business and culture at the Media Research Center, told LifeZette that the social media firms are private companies and have the legal right to censor conservatives. But he said executives from those companies routinely — and most recently last month when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg testified on Capitol Hill — claim to be platforms for all viewpoints.
“Clearly, they’re not,” he said.
Gainor said such behavior could spark a backlash.
“They’re going to run the risk — and I’m not advocating this — of regulation or litigation,” he said.
The Media Research Center is a conservative-leaning organization, but it is not just conservatives who fear the power of the social media giants. Robert Epstein, a researcher who has done extensive research on Google, said he is not a conservative. But he still worries about the enormous power that the company wields in controlling what Americans and people in many other countries see and read.
“It’s very, very dangerous,” he said.
Epstein, a senior research psychologist of the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, previously has estimated that Google has the power to shift 20 percent of undecided voters from one candidate to another simply by controlling what websites pop up in searches. That is enough to determine the winners of about a quarter of national elections around the world.
“Google is the main culprit,” he said. “But Facebook is doing it, too … People don’t realize how big this problem is.”
Epstein said Google blocks access to millions of websites every day — even on platforms it does not control, like Safari and Firefox. It does so through “blacklists,” which its web crawlers have identified as malware. When a computer user types in a website, the browser checks with Google blacklists to determine if it is OK, Epstein said.
Google has flexed its enormous power in the past. Last year, for instance, Google blocked access to all Japanese websites for 11 minutes, Epstein said. In 2009, he said, Google took down the entire internet for 40 minutes.
Google confirmed its responsibility but offered no explanation. Epstein said he believes it was a prank by Google engineers and that they picked the time because it was one of the few hours in which none of the world’s major stock markets was open — a time that a shutdown would cause the least harm.
Google’s Power to Make or Break
Pranks are one thing, but Epstein said that same power can be used to silence dissenting political voices and sink the fortunes of companies. He said Google every day blocks or “demotes” — pushes down websites in its search listings — thousands of companies. He said even JCPenney was demoted.
“The censoring that goes on is occurring in many, many ways.”
Usually, Google gives no detailed explanation, only a vague reference to its terms of service. “The censoring that goes on is occurring in many, many ways,” Epstein said. “And, of course, there’s no recourse.”
Epstein said it is clear that Google executives favor Democrats and liberals. And they increasingly are willing to use their company’s tools to advance the cause, he added.
“There’s overwhelming evidence at this point … that they’re putting the thumb on the scale over and over again in ways that suit their interests, financial or political,” he said.
Epstein pointed to a conference sponsored by The New York Times just after the 2016 election. Schmidt, the Google executive, said: “If you look, the adoption rate of smartphones is so profound that that is the information tool, and so how people get their information, what they believe, what they don’t, is, I think, the project for the next decade.”
Epstein said he helped develop a monitoring system that analyzed users’ Google searches and what information those searches produced during the 2016 election. He said based on that research, he believes Clinton won an additional 2 million to 3 million undecided voters because of biases built into Google’s algorithm.
Without Google, Epstein said, the popular vote likely would have been extremely closely divided.
Gainor, of the Media Research Center, said founding rivals to compete with entrenched social media behemoths would be daunting. “Talk about punching up,” he said, referring to Facebook’s 2 billion worldwide users.
Gainor said he hopes expressions like the ones Zuckerberg made last week of wanting to address concerns of anti-conservative bias are sincere.
“If social media companies are willing to work with us, we should welcome them with open arms,” he said.