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White House unveils new tool to report censorship by social media giants

The landing page for the White House censorship reporting tool.

Enlarge / The landing page for the White House censorship reporting tool.
whitehouse.gov

Donald Trump has long accused social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube of political bias. On Wednesday, his White House launched a new online form that allows members of the public to report political bias in their content moderation decisions.

“SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS should advance FREEDOM OF SPEECH,” the form says (capitalization in the original, of course). “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.”

The form asks users to provide their name and basic demographic and contact information. Users then provide details about the content that was censored and can provide screenshots of messages from social media companies about moderation decisions.

The form also collects respondents’ email addresses and asks for permission to add users to White House newsletters. Respondents are also asked to accept a user agreement that gives the Trump Administration a broad license to use the information, including publishing it.

The form singles out four social media platforms by name: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. Users can also choose “other” and type in another platform.

As these platforms have become more prominent, they have faced harsh criticism from both sides of the political spectrum. Liberals have attacked them for being too slow to block online harassment and hate speech. Social media companies have responded by beefing up their moderation efforts—but that has caused conservatives to worry about mainstream conservative content getting swept up in the dragnet.

Last month Vice reported on a recent internal discussion at Twitter addressing this very issue. During an all-hands meeting, someone asked why the platform doesn’t use automated tools to remove white supremacist content the way it has for ISIS propaganda. A Twitter employee who works on the issue reportedly said that one reason was that filters designed to identify white supremacist accounts could also catch the accounts of some Republican politicians.

The latest White House initiative ratchets up the pressure on social media companies from the right, encouraging them to tread lightly as they consider more aggressive moderation of far-right content.

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