Conservatives vs. social media

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 23rd of July, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Hey, before we get to our first story, a heads up: Our monthly listener feedback segment is coming up on Friday. If you have some feedback for us, please call our listener feedback line at 202-709-9595.

REICHARD: Yeah, we receive lots of feedback of all types—emails, social media posts, iTunes reviews. But this is radio, and we love to hear your voice. 

So take a moment to call us and leave your comments and questions. That number again is 202-709-9595.

EICHER: OK, on to our first story of the day: big tech censorship.

Social media and tech giants Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube have more users than many nations have citizens. Billions of people share ideas and photos, talk with friends, and read their news on these sites. But users who rely on the internet as their sole source of information might not be getting the whole story.

REICHARD: Some point to mounting evidence that Silicon Valley is using its immense power to suppress ideas it doesn’t like. Conservative lawmakers are calling on big tech companies to protect freedom of speech. But figuring out how to force private industry to protect free speech isn’t easy. 

WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg has our story.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: In July, President Trump invited conservative journalists and activists to the White House for a Social Media Summit. But he didn’t invite the social media giants themselves. 

That’s probably because the summit attendees had gathered to talk about how these companies have censored their platforms over the years. 

Lila Rose is the founder and CEO of the pro-life organization Live Action.

She told reporters social media companies have repeatedly silenced Live Action.

ROSE: We have been for four years banned from doing any advertising on Twitter. Last month we were permanently suspended from Pinterest. And then recently, our videos have been viewed more highly than almost any other related abortion content on Youtube, but Youtube buried our pro-life videos and boosted pro-abortion videos…. This double-standard and bias is a growing problem in big-tech.

President Trump promised to gather tech executives in the coming weeks to discuss speech censorship. He also threatened to impose new regulations on the way sites moderate content.   

TRUMP: The platforms are, absolutely, in my opinion, 100 percent crooked…. And something is going to be done.

Conservative lawmakers on the Hill have also started questioning social media companies. In April, representatives from Facebook and Twitter appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

In June, the House Committee on Homeland Security summoned Facebook, Twitter, and Google. During the hearing Texas Republican Dan Crenshaw said all-too-often, social media companies treat conservative and religious content as violent hate-speech.

CRENSHAW: The policies at your social media companies do not stop there. It doesn’t stop there at the clear cut lines of terrorism, terrorist videos, and terrorist propaganda. It goes much further than that. It goes down the slippery slope of what speech is appropriate for your platform… and the vague standards you employ in order to decide what is appropriate.

And last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee held another hearing to question Google on its search engine policies.  

AUDIO: This hearing is called to order. 

Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz pointed to a 2018 Google document called “The Good Censor” as evidence that Google itself says big tech restricts certain viewpoints. 

CRUZ: According to Google’s document, “The Good Censor,” Google says big tech have slowly shifted away from unmediated free speech and towards censorship and moderation.”

Google said the document was an internal marketing thought experiment and not an indicator of its policies. 

But Cruz said Google along with other tech giants can’t continue to hide behind algorithms. He called for transparency on how companies determine search results and feed content. He also wants them to be clear about what qualifies as violent or hateful content. 

CRUZ: Just as big tech needs and wants data on all of us, the American people need and want data on big tech. They need it to profit. We need it to protect free speech.

Democrats and social media companies continue to push back on the idea that conservative or religious speech is being censored. Here’s Senator Macy Hirono during last week’s hearing. 

HIRONO: Claims of anti-conservative bias in the tech industry are baseless. Study after study has debunked suggestions of political bias on the state of Facebook, Google, and Twitter.

Hirono pointed to three studies done by The Economist, Media Matters, and Twitter. 

Craig Parshall is the founder of the John Milton Project for Free Speech. Since 2010, he’s documented dozens of cases of conservative censorship. 

PARSHALL: Just within the last week, a quote by a Catholic official from no lesser a theologian than Augustan from the fifth century….caused a post by this Catholic official to be censored by Facebook. 

Parshall says when it comes to big tech, people are no longer just concerned about privacy issues. They recognize the power Google, Twitter, and Facebook have over the exchange of ideas and information. 

The question now is whether to leave that concentrated power in the hands of a few. And if so, what standards social media should be held to in the future. 

PARSHALL: Within the Republicans, there’s division. There are still those, the free market supporters, who believe in a free commercial market out there. I also believe that there have to be guardrails to free enterprise. It’s called antitrust. There’s also division within Democrats and liberals on this issue because traditional liberals believe in free speech. We have to honor free speech on these platforms even for ideas we detest. So this is a very unique splintering of interest groups and political alignments.

So who will lead the direction big tech goes and what direction will that be? Parshall says that’s another question to add to the list. 

PARSHALL: Are we going to regulate? If so, where are we going to use a light touch or a heavy hand? Who’s going to regulate? What are the standards? How are we going to protect as much as possible free enterprise in the process?

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.

(AP Photo/Richard Drew, File) In this March 29, 2018 file photo, the logo for social media giant Facebook, appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite, in New York’s Times Square. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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