Social Media Censorship: The right of the right to the right of free speech?

Those of you who read my columns on a regular basis are familiar with my belief in the First Amendment and the value I place in its position as an intrinsic civil liberty. Opinions may differ, but the right to express one’s ideas are tantamount to the country’s notions of democracy, and upholding your right to express them is, constitutionally speaking, vastly more important than trying to silence them. With the exception of blatant criminal activity, censorship has no place within these strictly defined boundaries.

As a consistently left of center writer, I am intrigued by the conviction held by conservatives that right-wing social media content is being muzzled by the hosting platforms, and it is not just coming from an anomalous few wearing aluminum hats. A Pew survey conducted between May and June of this year reported that 85% of Republican or Republican-leaning voters believe “it is likely” that social media platforms filter political commentary. That is a colossal amount of distrust.

Eager to uncover the raw truth of the matter, I traveled to Washington, DC, to spend time with individuals connected with the Trump campaign in an attempt to reveal just what made their convictions burn so brightly. I met with Harlan Hill, entrepreneur, Republican commentator and member of the Trump-Pence 2020 re-election advisory board, at Trump Hotel. No longer sporting the bow tie that was part of his early fame, Harlan I shared a quiet, friendly conversation, and he freely offered his take on the matter:

“The internet once gave us great hope for freedom of speech unencumbered by the gatekeepers of previous eras. That hole has all faded as tech startups matured into powerful giants and omnipresent gatekeepers of information. Everyone knows these tech oligarchs aren’t banning conservatives for ambiguous terms of service violations. Big tech simply doesn’t like conservative ideas, and so it’s easy to bow to pressure from liberal activists in the wake of President Trump’s rise to power.”

California has never been the most popular state among the right, and the suspicion of seditious activities in Silicon Valley are all the more piqued in a time when the loudest digital voice of all is the president’s. Their fears have been confirmed, too, and on more than one occasion. When Apple, Spotify, Facebook and YouTube barred Alex Jones from their platforms in August, the outrage from the right was deafening. Among the fury of responses was Congressman Matt Gaetz highlighting that the Facebook page “Milkshakes Against the Republican Party” posted calls for Republican members of Congress to be murdered. Posts were subsequently removed, but the page was not. More outcry followed.

Around the same time, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey responded to accusations of censoring right-wing content and limiting the accounts of prominent Republicans. While Dorsey confirmed that Twitter has its own algorithm to minimize the appearance of hateful posts, he maintained that political ideology did not factor into the decision-making process. The controversy surrounding Twitter’s failure to silence Nazis in 2017 was noticeably absent from the conversation, even though it infuriated some members of the left to the point of abandoning the platform entirely.

But the distrust remains, and the responses from those I spoke to in the capital were consistent: Social media is inherently biased toward the left, and liberal notions of tolerance and all-encompassing equality are hypocritical because they are unable to include ideals that do not fit their prescribed worldview. Long and short, say red voices on the Potomac, freedom of expression means you also have to allow for things you don’t want to hear, and many conservatives feel this exchange is not being fairly managed.

So, what’s the truth? This writer, for one, could find nothing substantial to suggest either Facebook or Twitter has been engaged in social media censorship of the right. While the anecdotes are plenty, raw data that stands up to scrutiny is not. Are the employees of both companies largely left leaning, meaning the pendulum of human error swings away from the right? Sure, and both have made some fairly big ones such the Candace Owens and Sarah Jeong debacle. Without question. But suggesting that the little blue bird is really a red communist sparrow with mal-intent against the right would appear to be a little off. Or does it?

As one of my contacts in Washington pointed out, unless someone in Silicon Valley is willing to break rank and confirm the suspicions, the right will have to continue to fight an, as yet, invisible enemy, which neither side can confirm or deny really exists.

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