President Trump has forcefully denounced “censorship” by major tech companies amid reports of possible “shadow-banning” of conservatives and account suspensions for non-mainstream public personalities.
Trump’s frustration has not morphed into a specific policy proposal, but it might as his criticism dovetails with a so-called “techlash” against lightly regulated tech giants.
“It’s bigger than one part of one branch of government, this is a general frustration with the companies,” a Trump administration official told the Washington Examiner.
The official said they believe Trump is seeking to influence corporate behavior to discourage censorship, and that he wants to show support for supporters such as the viral video makers Diamond and Silk, who were among the first conservatives to allege Facebook was stealthily limiting the reach of their videos.
The African-American duo made the allegation while testifying before Congress in April. Although precise algorithmic explanations are elusive, anecdotal evidence of so-called “shadow banning” has slowly mounted, including Prager University alleging that nine published videos reached zero of 3 million Facebook followers.
The administration official said it’s “too soon to say” if Trump’s opposition to censorship will manifest in a specific policy proposal, but that “as a general matter, it’s always better to self regulate and not have regulation come from any part of government, that’s just the preference across the board.”
Trump publicly denounced what he called “censorship” after Facebook this month purged and Twitter temporarily suspended controversial conspiracy theorist and news commentator Alex Jones, who runs InfoWars. At about the same time, Twitter purged former diplomat and author Peter Van Buren, a critic of U.S. foreign policy and American spy agencies, after an argument with journalists.
In an essay-length series of tweets, Trump weighed in on Aug. 18. He wrote:
“Social Media is totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices. Speaking loudly and clearly for the Trump Administration, we won’t let that happen. They are closing down the opinions of many people on the RIGHT, while at the same time doing nothing to others…….Censorship is a very dangerous thing & absolutely impossible to police. If you are weeding out Fake News, there is nothing so Fake as CNN & MSNBC, & yet I do not ask that their sick behavior be removed. I get used to it and watch with a grain of salt, or don’t watch at all…..Too many voices are being destroyed, some good & some bad, and that cannot be allowed to happen. Who is making the choices, because I can already tell you that too many mistakes are being made. Let everybody participate, good & bad, and we will all just have to figure it out!”
Trump tweeted again Friday, adding: “Social Media Giants are silencing millions of people. Can’t do this even if it means we must continue to hear Fake News like CNN, whose ratings have suffered gravely. People have to figure out what is real, and what is not, without censorship!”
The administration official told the Washington Examiner that Trump’s public remarks about censorship are in part because he feels it’s important to “speak up for his people show and solidarity” with them, and that they are unaware of any specific steps toward addressing the alleged censorship with regulations or legislation.
Until recently, tech companies have benefited from a relatively light regulator touch, growing into some of the nation’s largest firms, with vast repositories of personal data and few rules for how to use it.
Lawmakers have grown increasingly skeptical of the companies, however, with bipartisan concern about Russia’s use of Facebook during the 2016 election, and with a societal gasp about revelations this year that the firm Cambridge Analytica’s used data from 87 million people collected using a third-party Facebook personality test to influence 2016 voters.
The administration official said scorn grew with the opposition of some tech companies to an anti-sex trafficking bill that passed this year, diminishing immunity for companies that host third-party content.
Congressional committees have struggled to get top figures to appear. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared for questioning about Russia after much behind-the-scenes effort, followed by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s reluctance to discuss company policy. The House Energy and Commerce Committee discussed using a subpoena to force Dorsey to testify, Politico reported, before he relented Friday.
Many lawmakers “feel that Silicon Valley companies don’t take them seriously,” the administration official said. “There’s a sense these companies need to grow up, so to speak.”