Vice News reported yesterday that Twitter was “shadow banning” prominent Republicans and found that Democrats were not getting the same treatment.
Vice News‘ Alex Thompson wrote:
The Republican Party chair Ronna McDaniel, several conservative Republican congressmen, and Donald Trump Jr.’s spokesman no longer appear in the auto-populated drop-down search box on Twitter, VICE News has learned. It’s a shift that diminishes their reach on the platform — and it’s the same one being deployed against prominent racists to limit their visibility. The profiles continue to appear when conducting a full search, but not in the more convenient and visible drop-down bar. (The accounts appear to also populate if you already follow the person.)
Democrats are not being “shadow banned” in the same way, according to a VICE News review. McDaniel’s counterpart, Democratic Party chair Tom Perez, and liberal members of Congress — including Reps. Maxine Waters, Joe Kennedy III, Keith Ellison, and Mark Pocan — all continue to appear in drop-down search results. Not a single member of the 78-person Progressive Caucus faces the same situation in Twitter’s search.
Twitter’s shadow banning is disturbing news, and it is problematic for Republicans and conservatives who need a platform to get their message out (because, unfortunately, you can’t depend on the media doing or, if they do report on it, doing it accurately). Social media is vital.
McDaniel, who Vice News reported is being “shadow banned,” told Lou Dobbs on Fox Business Network that social media platforms do not have a right to suppress voices and beliefs.
Here’s the transcript:
Dobbs: I do want to ask you, if I may, about this shadow banning on Twitter. You, Matt Gates among conservatives, not appearing on the drop down on Twitter. What are you going to do about that?
McDaniel: We sent a letter to Twitter over a month ago asking them to talk to us about the shadow banning, and the issues that we’re seeing with conservative voices being suppressed, and now Vice just came out with an article actually proving that with my name, when you look it up, my account doesn’t come up, Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows, various other Republicans. The same is not true for Democrats.
Dobbs: It’s outrageous.
McDaniel: It is really outrageous. So why are they doing that? Listen, thought police in this country is not good. Thought police in our social media platforms is a bad thing for our country. You can have the right to disagree. You do not have the right to suppress voices and beliefs that do not always coincide with your own, and we are seeing it again and again with conservative voices. We’re going to need our users to step up. We’ve asked Twitter to account for this. They’ve never responded to our letter.
It is outrageous; Twitter should have to explain themselves. They should feel a lot of heat.
Do they have a right to do this?
Unequivocally yes. Why?
The First Amendment codifies our inalienable right of freedom of speech, but it says this, “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.”
Twitter is not Congress. Twitter is a private company. If Twitter received federal funds that would be a different story, but to my knowledge, they do not.
We do not have a “right” to express ourselves on Twitter just like you do not have a right to come into my house and tell me off. I may not be able to stop you physically (at least not without consequence – legal or otherwise), but I can make sure you are not welcome to come back in the future.
Likewise, you do not have the right to write whatever you like at Caffeinated Thoughts. As the editor, I can approve or disapprove articles. I can accept or reject comments. Why? Because I own the website.
Could Congress step in to “fix” this? Indeed, but be careful what you wish for here. Just like the Fairness Doctrine throttled debate on controversial subjects, government regulation of social media can do the same. Also, if Congress can regulate social media what is stopping them from telling websites like Caffeinated Thoughts that we have to include liberal writers or Vice News that they have to include conservative voices?
Social media platforms, like Twitter, have a right to suppress speech and beliefs they disagree with, but that does not mean they should. Unlike Caffeinated Thoughts, Vice News, The Federalist, and Think Progress, social media platforms marketed themselves as a place for everybody. The best way to battle bad speech is with good speech. Suppressing speech you disagree with does not elevate our civil discourse.
So we should pressure Twitter and perhaps even stop using Twitter if they don’t respond accordingly, but let the free market and public opinion, not Congress, sway them to do the right thing.