EASTON — The CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google will be on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Oct. 21, to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee over online censorship of a New York Post story on Hunter Biden and the suspension and banning of some conservative accounts including many associated with QAnon.
Concerns about ‘Big Tech’ extend to the Eastern Shore and Delmarva Peninsula where Trump supporters and conservatives contend Twitter, Facebook, Google and YouTube are restricting and censoring them.
“It is completely unacceptable for Facebook and Twitter to block the sharing of information between Americans. Their brazen attempt to affect the outcome of this election should not be tolerated by any fair-minded American,” said U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md.-1st.
Harris is a conservative and supports President Donald Trump.
Trump, White Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany and other conservatives have had some of their social media posts flagged or removed by Twitter and Facebook. Twitter restricted users from sharing the New York Post story on Hunter Biden’s foreign business deals and their relations to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, his father.
Other conservatives say Twitter’s moves are part of a pattern of political and cultural biases from powerful, Silicon Valley based social media giants.
Lauren Witzke is a Republican challenging U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., in the November election. She has made some bold and very controversial social media statements on immigration, abortion, Islam, the media and Joe Biden.
“While Senator Coons defends his Big Tech donors who are squelching the First Amendment rights of Americans online, I have been suspended from Twitter for expressing perfectly ordinary conservative views on restricting immigration. Silicon Valley has made itself very clear: they are actively suppressing conservatives to help the Democrats win in November, and they must face legal repercussions for abiding Americans’ First Amendment rights, and for their interference in our elections,” Witzke said.
Witzke has also criticized Yelp for a new disclaimer that lists restaurants who have been accused of racist behavior. This came after a Grotto Pizza location in Delaware canceled a campaign event for her after receiving social media criticism.
Democrats — including Coons and U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. — have voiced concerns about misinformation (including from Russia and other countries) on social media in the lead up to the 2020 presidential election. They worried about ‘fake news’ impacting the 2016 elections and the same happening this year. They want Facebook, Twitter and others to be vigilant when it comes to content about the election and coronavirus.
Coons and Van Hollen have also been critical of Trump’s social media posts.
Social media platforms are key for advocates on all sides of the political spectrum. They have helped upstart candidates, such as Witzke and Kimberly Klacik on the right and the likes of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the left, promote their agendas and raise campaign dollars. Klacik had a social media ad go viral for her Maryland congressional run and was later promoted by Trump. She raised $6.4 million in this most recent reporting period, according to the Federal Election Commission.The Senate committee hearing in Washington will feature Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Alphabet Inc./Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
Google also owns YouTube. Facebook also owns Instagram. The hearing will focus on free speech concerns, legal protections enjoyed by social media giants, potential antitrust issues and political biases.
The social media firms and Yelp have not yet responded to questions from The Star Democrat regarding their restrictions of some accounts and posted content in the lead up to the election.
Dorsey said on Twitter on Friday, Oct. 16, that blocking sharing of the Hunter Biden story was a mistake.
“Straight blocking of URLs was wrong, and we updated our policy and enforcement to fix. Our goal is to attempt to add context, and now we have capabilities to do that,” Dorsey said in a social media statement.
Facebook Vice President of Integrity Guy Rosen earlier this month outlined some of the company’s programs to deal with misinformation and so-called ‘fake news’.
“Since 2016, we’ve built an advanced system combining people and technology to review the billions of pieces of content that are posted to our platform every day. State-of-the-art AI systems flag content that may violate our policies, users report content to us they believe is questionable and our own teams review content,” Rosen said.
“We’ve also been building a parallel viral content review system to flag posts that may be going viral – no matter what type of content it is – as an additional safety net. This helps us catch content that our traditional systems may not pick up.”
Between March and September, Rosen said Facebook and Instagram blocked 120,000 pieces of content and displayed ‘misinformation warnings’ on 150 million posts. The company also rejected 2.2 million ads, Rosen said.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube have also been suspending, restricting or banning accounts associated with the QAnon movement.
QAnon advocates worry about child sex trafficking rings and potential connections to political, business and Hollywood elites. QAnon proponents also tend to support Trump. The social media firms and other skeptics contend QAnon promulgates conspiracy theories, promotes hate speech and could have ties to extremist groups. FBI Director Christopher Wray called QAnon a “complex set of a conspiracy theories” during a U.S. House Homeland Security Committee hearing last month.
Yelp Vice President of Operations Noorie Malik said in a statement the controversy related disclaimers placed on restaurants and other businesses’ social media pages are part of the company’s “zero-tolerance policy to racism.”
“As the nation reckons with issues of systemic racism, we’ve seen in the last few months that there is a clear need to warn consumers about businesses associated with egregious, racially-charged actions to help people make more informed spending decisions,” Malik said.
“Now, when a business gains public attention for reports of racist conduct, such as using racist language or symbols, Yelp will place a new Business Accused of Racist Behavior Alert on their Yelp page to inform users, along with a link to a news article where they can learn more about the incident,” Malik said.
Witzke counters that the Yelp policies allow left-wing groups such as Antifa and Black Lives Matter to intimidate businesses in order to censor conservatives.
Some residents on the Eastern Shore are also concerned about the power of big technology and social media firms and how they maybe restricting some voices, including conservative and pro-Trump ones.
“I do believe that the conservatives and Republicans are being censored. Free speech should belong to everyone not just a chosen few from the Hollywood bunch and the left,” said John Gondeck, an author from Denton. “When a conservative begins to speak the left does all they can to shut them up from bull horns to screaming and hollering at them. Where is the tolerance for all? Tolerance is a one way street for them. As far as the media goes, have looked into who owns the media? Most of them have the morals of an ally cat and they are too far left.”
Cynthia Baynard, of Easton, agrees and feels social media platforms favor progressives over Trump supporters and conservatives.
“I do think all of them are filtering and targeting trump supporters and yes it’s happened to me. I’ve had things I’ve posted show up as content unavailable fake or unreliable source under it when it originally came from a source such as New York Times or something reputable,” she said.
Baynard contends Democrats are not held to the same standards.