Over the course of his presidency, Donald Trump has had a lot to say about social media companies, and he’s accused several of censoring conservative voices. Now, it seems the president is escalating his supposed fight for free speech.
On Wednesday, the Trump administration launched an online form asking people to share stories regarding tech bias. The form, called the “Tech Bias Story Sharing Tool” opens with the following message:
“SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS should advance FREEDOM OF SPEECH. 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.”
The form request that people submit evidence alongside their stories if possible, such as links of Tweets or screenshots of emails from social media companies. There is no clear information on where the data goes. However, people are asked to provide their first and last name, zip code, and email. People also have the option to provide their phone number “in case we need to get in touch” or even get added to email newsletters to remain “posted on President Trump’s fight for free speech.”
The Trump Administration is fighting for free speech online.
— The White House 45 Archived (@WhiteHouse45) May 15, 2019
The creation of this app may seem random, but it is a clear extension of a popular conservative talking point that claims social media is biased against the right. But, those who pay attention have seen time and time again that isn’t the case.
Trump’s own tool singles out Facebook and Twitter as examples in some of its questions, but Facebook has been routinely criticized for allowing far-right figures to establish audiences on its platforms. Although the company recently banned figures like Alex Jones and his organization Info Wars, it’s important to note that Jones was banned by Facebook before in 2018. He was able to make his way back to the site and his audience.
Recent reports also highlighted that Facebook regularly bans Black people for discussing anti-Blackness or organizing on its platform. USA Today outlined some of these experiences in an April report:
“Black activists say hate speech policies and content moderation systems formulated by a company built by and dominated by white men fail the very people Facebook claims its trying to protect. Not only are the voices of marginalized people disproportionately stifled, Facebook rarely takes action on repeated reports of racial slurs, violent threats, and harassment campaigns targeting Black users.”
Beyond Facebook continuously giving leeway to blatant white supremacists while punishing Black users, Twitter is another problem site — and not for conservatives. TechCrunch once referred to Twitter as a “Nazi haven” and it’s become a running joke on the platform for users to respond to all of CEO Jack Dorsey’s tweets with, “Jack, ban the Nazis.”
Users regularly complained that nothing is done about white supremacy on Twitter and, at the end of April, we finally learned why.
A Vice report confirmed what was common knowledge for most marginalized groups online: Twitter cannot take a firm stance against white supremacy, because that would mean going after Republicans, too.
There is no clear information on where the data that Trump’s tool hopes to compile plans to go. The Verge pointed out that it is a “data collection tool in disguise”, but there is another reason to cast a critical eye.
After requesting someone’s first and last name, Trump’s tool asks if they are a citizen or permanent resident. If not, the users receive a screen stating, “Unfortunately, we can’t gather your response through this form. Please feel free to contact us at WhiteHouse.gov/contact.”
Their name and lack of citizenship status is still recorded.
This is particularly concerning given how the Trump administration has gone after immigrants and pushed for harsher laws. From the Muslim ban to attempting to end temporary protected status (TPS), the Trump administration has continuously gone after immigrant and refugee populations.
It is unclear why Trump’s administration would even need to record someone’s citizenship status in order to document social media complaints.
Conservatives are hardly under attack from social media. Trump’s tool is not a genuine effort at protecting free speech. Instead, it is a way to turn social media conversations away from marginalized communities who experience daily dehumanization and harassment online.