Is social media biased in opposition to conservatives? Apparently not
Many Republicans routinely complain that the major social networks systematically suppress right-wing views, but they have presented little real evidence to support this. A new study from New York University finds there is no evidence and, in fact, finds the opposite – that social media has brought right-wing viewpoints to a wider audience than ever before.
“[T]Claiming an anti-conservative animus is itself a form of disinformation: a lie with no reliable evidence, ”the report said. “No trustworthy large-scale studies have found that conservative content is removed for ideological reasons, or that search queries are manipulated to advance liberal interests.”
Yet that little big lie was alarmingly effective. An August 2020 poll by the Pew Research Center found that 90% of Republicans and Republican independents believe that it is at least somewhat likely that social media companies are deliberately censoring political positions they deem uncomfortable.
When Section 230 was passed by Congress, #BigTech provided a neutral public forum. Based on what we’ve seen in the past 48 hours, they are no more. pic.twitter.com/cqL3xNQvKp
– Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) October 15, 2020
The NYU study, conducted by disinformation and content moderation researcher Paul Barrett, relies on tools like CrowdTangle and NewsWhip to track the distribution and reach of right-wing content. Barrett, assistant director of NYU’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, has also compiled a chronology of all the allegations and anecdotes put forward by rights like Senators Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and Marsha Blackburn to prove that social media “ conservative viewpoints. “
The social media companies have a mercenary perspective. “
Paul Barrett, NYU “These claims tend to be scrutinized,” says Barrett. “That doesn’t mean that every single one [content] Takedown was correct. The social networks have reversed their own decisions. But when you look at the whole picture together, it’s difficult for a fair person to say that he is aiming for conservatives. “
On the contrary. Barrett found evidence that the content delivery algorithms used by the leading social media platforms amplified the right voices to reach an audience of unprecedented size. That might be a nice way of saying that social networks have taken advantage of fringy, factually questionable right-wing content to entice users into sharing more content and spending more time on their websites.
“The social media companies have a mercenary perspective,” says Barrett. “They want to increase user engagement and they use all kinds of content that users interact with. If this is sensitive political content, or if it’s something cultural like kittens and puppies, then all is well. “
If you’ve spent time following the most viral news link posts on Facebook, as New York Times columnist Kevin Roose did, you’ll find that they usually aren’t about kittens and puppies. It’s highly partisan political contributions from Fox News, Breitbart, and Ben Shapiro’s The Daily Wire.
The entire moderation process of these big tech companies is secret as they refuse to publish their logs. If tech giants want to maintain their government-granted immunity, they need to bring transparency and accountability into their editorial processes.
– Senator Hawley’s Press Office (@SenHawleyPress) June 20, 2019
Right-wing politicians routinely use their social media persecution history to raise calls for the repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides legal protection for the tech companies that operate social networks. Section 230 protects tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter from being sued for either malicious user content posted on their websites or decisions they have made to remove malicious content. Even Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat who wrote Section 230 as early as the 1990s, says Facebook and others may have used the law’s legal shield as a substitute for rigorous content moderation. However, a complete repeal of section 230 would likely be punitive rather than corrective.
Instead, Barrett says that section 230 should be updated to include legal protections from adhering to stricter standards for content moderation by the tech platforms. He says a new agency should be created to enforce such guidelines in digital spaces, or that Congress should give the Federal Trade Commission or the Federal Communications Commission expanded powers and resources to oversee social media companies.
This will be my last post on this anti-American platform. The greatest threats to freedom are the destructive technology tyrants who have acted as publishers in their ongoing wars against conservatives and free speech.
You can find me on Parler, where we respect free speech. I am “Dbongino”.
– Dan Bongino (@dbongino) January 8, 2021
Barrett’s report also suggests that technology platforms provide greater transparency in their content moderation decisions, allow users to choose the level of moderation of content on their social feeds, and hire more moderators for human content.
For social media regulation to succeed, it may be best for the prominent Republicans who have made allegations of bias to get out of the way.
“What is needed is a robust reform agenda that addresses the very real issues of regulating social media content as it exists now,” says Barrett. “Only when we move away from these false claims can we begin to seriously pursue this agenda.”