The President Is Going After Social Media Companies…Again
Photo Credit: WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 28: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media on the South Lawn prior to his departure from the White House March 28, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump is traveling to Michigan to hold a political rally in Grand Rapids. He will travel to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida later tonight. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Since coming into office, President Trump has often claimed that social media companies hold a bias against conservatives. In now-deleted tweets, Trump even went so far as to claim that Google displayed political bias against him, writing, “We are watching Google very closely!”
Although there is absolutely no proof of Trump’s claims, the administration launched a “tech bias” sharing tool in May. Now, it seems Trump is taking his fight against social media companies one step further with a new White House proposal.
Originally reported by Politico, the “Protecting Americans from Online Censorship” proposal would give the Federal Communications Commission oversight of how companies like Facebook and Twitter monitor their platforms.
The administration claims that it received over 15,000 complaints around social media bias from its online tool. Under the proposal, the Federal Trade Commission will be asked to open a public complaint docket, according to CNN, and work with the FTC to investigate how tech companies curate their platforms.
The proposal would impact companies whose monthly user base makes up one-eighth of the United States population. That includes some of the biggest platforms out there like Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, and more.
A White House official told Politico:
“If the internet is going to be presented as this egalitarian platform and most of Twitter is liberal cesspools of venom, then at least the president wants some fairness in the system. But look, we also think that social media plays a vital role. They have a vital role and an increasing responsibility to the culture that has helped make them so profitable and prominent.”
There isn’t really any say as to what penalties companies would face if they’re found to be “censoring” political viewpoints, but Trump’s claims are already sketchy by themselves. While the White House alleges that Twitter is “liberal cesspools of venom”, the platform has long struggled with Nazis and white supremacy on the site. The issue is so bad that TechCrunch referred to Twitter as a “Nazi haven”.
Twitter refuses to tackle the problem using algorithms because the company fears that they would sweep up conservative politicians. In other words, Twitter is actually catering to conservative viewpoints, often at the expense of already vulnerable communities.
However, companies who do use algorithms aren’t actually catching white supremacists or conservatives, either. Recently, a study found that algorithms used to detect online hate speech — including Google’s Perspective — were racially biased.
According to New Scientist, “AIs trained to recognise online hate speech were up to twice as likely to identify tweets as offensive when they were written with African-American English or by people who identify as African American.”
In addition, Twitter actually developed an entire tool just to let Trump continue using the platform. The company decided to add a label to tweets by major political figures if the content breaks the site’s rules — which Trump’s tweets have done multiple times.
It’s obvious that the president is attempting to stir up controversy around social media as the 2020 election approaches. By already claiming that companies like Google are attempting to rig the election against him, Trump is able to distract from some of the very-real issues taking place on social media, such as hate speech.
Platforms tip-toeing around white supremacy in order to appease conservatives has left communities vulnerable, both on and offline. With the recent shooting in El Paso, Texas, a manifesto was left on 8chan, and in the case of the Christchurch massacre, the shooter shouted out popular YouTube PewDiePie.
Social media does play a powerful role in our society, but there is no evidence of a conservative bias. Trump’s allegations need to be recognized for what they are: a distraction and attempt to establish further control over an already wildly unregulated tool.