For All Of Trump's Complaints About Social Media 'Censorship', The White House Itself Moderates Content Similarly To Social Media Sites
from the oh,-look-at-that dept
As you may have heard, a couple weeks ago, President Trump hosted what he called a “social media summit,” where he brought in various Trump-supporting social media people, and where they all got to whine about the completely made up concept of anti-conservative censorship on social media sites (and, because I know the same three of you are going to show up in the comments and scream your heads off that I’m being blind to such censorship: you have yet to show any actual evidence to support your claims — and, no, a few anecdotes of trolls, assholes, revisionists and propagandists being blocked does not actually prove your point). Trump gave a long speech at that event, most of which made literally no sense. However, he seemed pretty damn sure that social media sites are censoring conservatives.
But we run out of here? Shadow-banned, a hundred percent. You look at what?s going on. You know, I could go? The blocking, just the basic blocking of what we want to get out. The fact that they don?t let them join. They don?t. There was?. There?s no doubt in my mind that I should have millions and millions?
I have millions of people, so many people I wouldn?t believe it. But I know that we?ve been blocked. People come up to me, and they say, ?Sir, I can?t, I can?t get you. I can?t follow you. They make it impossible.? These are people that are really good at what they do. They say they make it absolutely impossible. And you know we can?t have it. We?re not going to let it happen.
Josh, we?re not going to let it happen. And you know, if they did it on both sides, if it were done to the other side, to the other group? And I?m representing everybody. I do, I represent everybody. I fully understand liberal. I fully understand Democrat. We want to get along. We want to make sure that everybody loves each other, if that?s possible. And maybe, I really believe it is.
Also, during the talk, he briefly admitted that he understands why sites have kicked off some of these people before then going back to saying it’s unfair:
TRUMP: "Some of you were [banned from social media platforms] for absolutely no reason. I mean in all fairness some of you I could almost understand it. I mean some of you guys are out there. But even you should have a voice … I mean it's genius, but it's bad." pic.twitter.com/EmGoLS1M9V
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 11, 2019
Of course, as Charles Duan notes at the Washington Examiner, if the White House is really upset about social media platforms kicking people off, it might want to check its own house first. Because on the “We The People” petition site, the White House itself appears to take a surprisingly similar approach to that of the big social media companies.
Or consider We the People again. Surprisingly, the White House petition site has a stringent content moderation policy, prohibiting petitions for commercial endorsements, obscenity, profanity, and ?degrading slurs.?
And, from there, he notes that this policy might actually violate the 1st Amendment, given that it is a government site, and the government cannot engage in viewpoint discrimination. Indeed, after last month’s Supreme Court ruling that said that it was viewpoint discrimination for the US Patent and Trademark Office to reject trademarks on “immoral and scandalous” marks, following a similar ruling from two years ago barring the rejection of “disparaging” remarks, it’s difficult to see how banning petitions that have “degrading slurs” would actually pass Constitutional muster.
But, really, that’s an aside to the larger point, which is that in practice the Trump administration appears to be more willing to kick bigots and racists off its own platform than the Obama administration was.
How that policy has been applied is even more concerning. In 2017, a white nationalist group alleged that the We the People content moderator had removed the group?s petition on college funding. I have no love for white nationalists, but kicking them off a White House petition page is plainly viewpoint-based censorship. Ironically, the group noted that the Obama administration had allowed the same petition, so it was the Trump White House that was censoring far-right views.
That links takes you to a white nationalist page whining about the “We The People Moderator” (seriously) rejecting a petition to “defund anti-white colleges that censor criticism of white genocide.”
In other words, Trump’s own White House is doing exactly the kind of moderation that Trump’s own White House is attacking Silicon Valley companies for.
Duan’s article makes a further point: if Trump and the White House (or Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley) are really so concerned about the lack of social media sites “respecting” the First Amendment (which they, as private companies, are not bound by), there is literally nothing stopping the White House or Congress from setting up their own sites that would be bound by the First Amendment, as a government project.
Yet if Trump, Cruz, and others want a politically neutral, unbiased platform, there?s a simple solution: They should make one. Call it ?freespeech.gov? and guarantee that all ideologies will be treated equally.
Perhaps counterintuitively, a public social media service actually fits right in to the government?s traditional role. In the real world, traditional public forums include streets, parks, and town halls ? all government-run property. Such venues are perfect for political neutrality because the First Amendment demands it. Officials can restrict the time, place, and manner of speech on public grounds, but they cannot discriminate among viewpoints. The village park of Skokie, Illinois, must be as open to neo-Nazis as anyone else.
A freespeech.gov platform would be a virtual public square, so the First Amendment itself would prohibit anti-conservative or other bias. Contrast this to Republicans? currently favored approach of legislating political neutrality on platforms. Private platforms are emphatically not public forums, as the Supreme Court has explained, and worse yet, this neutrality legislation might be an unconstitutional compelled-speech mandate.
Little stands in the way of building freespeech.gov. The government has its digital consultancies 18F and the U.S. Digital Service to produce the technology. It has already created the ?We the People? White House petitions website, a virtual public square where hundreds of thousands of users call for everything from deporting Justin Bieber to building a Death Star. A freespeech.gov site would likely be popular as well ? after all, what teenager could resist sharing dank memes under a .gov URL?
This is a valid point all around. If Trump, Hawley and Cruz insist that there needs to be a social media platform that is “neutral,” the only place they actually have the Constitutional authority to make that happen is on a site set up by the government itself.
And then, as it appears the Trump administration (and the President himself) recognize, they might finally “understand” why these sites kick people off.
So, the next time you see any government official whining on about private companies not hosting all speech, there’s a simple response: the government has the power (and even the skills) to do it itself. The only reason not to, of course, is if this is all stupid political grandstanding and an attempt to “work the refs” into getting social media sites to leave up harassers, abusers, trolls, and propagandists who just happen to be supporting the President and his allies.