The White House Censorship Tool
A week after Facebook announced it is banning extremist commentators from using their platform, the White House launched a new tool for people who feel they’ve been wrongly censored, suspended, or banned from social media platforms.
The tool is hosted on Typeform, a Barcelona-based online software company that companies, like Nike and Apple Inc., have used for online surveys and form building. It seems to be named the “Tech Bias Story Sharing Tool” when you look at the title of the web page.
When you first enter the website, all you see is a statement that reads, “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.” Following this is a start button that leads to a form with various questions, one of which asks if you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
Republican Censorship on Social Media?
It’s no secret that President Trump has many issues with social media and the type of rules these companies employ. However, when it comes to freedom of speech, most are unaware that those First Amendment protections do not necessarily apply to social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. because these companies are private. In other words, the United States government has no control over what rules social media abides by. If Facebook wants to remove users from their platform, they have every right to do so. They could even remove the President if they wanted to.
However, it seems like those in charge intend to do good by implementing new rules, despite public outcry that conservatives have been wrongly censored on social media. Facebook’s motivation for banning extremist users was to reduce the influence the social network has on mass shootings and violent attacks.
Still, in recent months, Republicans have been publicly addressing their concerns that social media networks are censoring conservatives. Even going so far as to question officials from Facebook and Twitter about political bias during hearings held by committees like the House Energy and Senate Judiciary, according toThe Verge.
“We enforce the Twitter Rules impartially for all users, regardless of their background or political affiliation. We are constantly working to improve our systems and will continue to be transparent in our efforts,” said Twitter in a response to the new tool in a quote published byThe Verge.
The tool has users describe what actions were taken against their account, identify which platform took action (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, other), and also allows for screenshots and links to be attached.
One of the last questions of the form reads is, “One more thing, just to confirm you aren’t a robot. The Declaration of Independence was signed in what year?”
This is an anti-scripting technique that The Verge describes as “unorthodox” and “generally ineffective” because of how simple it is to type in a number. Other anti-scripting tools use photo recognition to determine if someone is a robot or not. We’re not sure if the White House meant this to be a joke or not, but it’s kind of funny.
Donald Trump’s Censorship
What’s also interesting about this whole situation is that President Trump, in a way, is guilty of social media censorship himself. When he blocks someone on Twitter, oftentimes because of their opposing viewpoints, he is censoring them from viewing his tweets and censoring the conversation around his tweets. In fact, this very specific case was taken to court, but Trump was not actually found guilty of violating First Amendment rights. This is because he blocked the user on his personal twitter account (not the government’s account) so therefore it’s not considered government censorship. Is that kind of hypocritical?