Conservatives are constantly at one end or the other of a giant mood swing: They’re either exulting that they and their beloved Trump are riding a Red Wave that will crush all the puny, impotent liberals — or they’re blubbering that these same puny, impotent liberals are being mean to them and something must be done about it. A ridiculous Twitter “shadow banning” controversy was just the most recent example of the latter.
As commonly understood, shadow banning is a moderator muting an account without letting the user know. What a report in Vice last week discovered instead was that when one did a Twitter search on certain Republicans — including GOP Congressmen Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, and Matt Gaetz, and “Donald Trump Jr.’s spokesman” — their “profiles continue to appear when conducting a full search, but not in the more convenient and visible drop-down bar.”
Vice queried Twitter, which referred them to a blog post suggesting the situation had been caused by “new tools” they’d implemented to combat “troll-like behaviors” — such as “sign[ing] up for multiple accounts simultaneously” or “accounts that repeatedly Tweet and mention accounts that don’t follow them,” behaviors associated with malicious trolls but which could also just be a sign of aggressive self-promotion. Twitter also told Vice it was “shipping a change to address this.”
Not really a shadow ban at all, in other words, but conservatives — including the president of the United States — liked the sinister sound of the term and used it anyway. “Republican feels ‘victimized’ by Twitter ‘shadow banning,'” reported the Hill. “Twitter slammed for ‘shadow banning’ prominent Republicans,” cried Fox News.
Minor as this may sound to normal people, the brethren embarked on several days of shit-fits over it.
Hot Air‘s John Sexton professed to find it “odd that only Republicans appear to have triggered false positives.” When Twitter informed him the search issue affected Democrats too, Sexton was not mollified: “That doesn’t mean the impact is proportional by political affiliation,” he sniffed. “Granted, the number involved is unknown, but obviously, if you expand the disparate impact to 10,000 users or a million, that’s a significant partisan advantage.” And what if you expend it to a kajillion users? It’s bigger than Watergate!
“It sure looks to me like they are censoring people and they ought to stop it,” said Trump loyalist and California Republican Congressman Devin Nunes, who also claimed to be looking at “legal remedies.”
You may roll your eyes at such conservative snowflakery over such a small thing, but the squeaky wheels got their grease; Vice reported that Twitter hustled to fix the search feature so that it would “no longer limit the visibility of some prominent Republicans in its search results,” and the celebs got their extra nanoseconds of prominence.
This is why conservatives constantly bitch that social media companies are persecuting them: It’s another of the many ways they work the refs so big media companies, terrified that they’ll be accused of bias, give them unearned breaks. (See the New York Times‘ latest Trump-fluffing article as an example.)
When Facebook changed its algorithm to promote news sources they considered “trustworthy,” “informative,” and “local,” publishers of all kinds suffered drops in traffic; conservatives did, too, but tended to attribute it to ideological bias. Gateway Pundit, for example, a notorious volume dealer in bullshit and disseminator of Russian propaganda, experienced a drop in traffic, so they denounced the new algorithm as a “purge” (“Conservative Publishers Hit Hard By Facebook Algorithm Changes — Gateway Pundit Hit the Hardest”).
At National Review, Ben Shapiro noted Facebook’s claim that it “determine[d] whether a source is ‘broadly trusted,'” and favored that content by “ask[ing] users if they are familiar with a news source and then whether they trust that news source” — but Shapiro claimed this was actually prejudicial against conservatives because “activists on the left are more common on Facebook than activists on the right, so the Right will be more easily damaged.” In other words, they were outvoted, which is by definition unfair. (Well, conservatives aren’t known for their faith in democracy.)
One might ask: Why don’t conservatives, who claim to believe in the free market, just shrug and take their business elsewhere? After all, there are services like Gab and Ricochet that cater to conservatives — they ain’t much now, but surely patriots can build them to greatness just as they built this great country out of the wilderness. But persecution mania beats principle for a lot of these guys, and some have begun to talk about the need to use government to force social media to their will.
At National Review John Hawkins made “The Conservative Case for Breaking Up Monopolies Such as Google and Facebook,” on the grounds that “big tech companies discriminate against conservatives.” Also at National Review, Victor Davis Hanson complained that “none of these tech giants are held to the same oversight that monitors rail, drug, oil, or power companies” even though “Google alone determines each day what sort of imaging — much of it ideologically driven — billions of Internet users will see on screens.”
And in April Congressional Republicans held hearings — featuring the false testimony of wingnut buffoons Diamond and Silk — that were self-evidently intended to show Facebook and other social media companies their power. And shortly after the hearings Facebook apparently got the message, hiring top conservatives to review their practices.
There was another big piece of social media news last week when YouTube removed some videos by, and Facebook suspended, Alex Jones, the InfoWars psycho who, among other atrocities, has suggested that the kids slain in the Sandy Hook massacre were actually “crisis actors” only pretending to be killed.
Jones’ suspension is only for thirty days, and InfoWars itself has not been touched, which observers believe shows how nervous Facebook is about interfering with prominent right-wing entities, however nuts.
Facebook’s VP for video explained that while InfoWars was “absolutely atrocious … we have the hard job of balancing freedom of expression and safety … if you are saying something that’s untrue on Facebook — you’re allowed to say it as long as you’re an authentic person and you adhere to our community standards — but we’re trying to make it so it doesn’t get that much distribution.” (Some refs were apparently born to be worked!)
Still, you may be pleased to hear that only a few actual conservative friends stood to defend Jones. Sure, the Daily Stormer was all in (“Facebook Cracking Down on Alex Jones NOW! After JewTube Already Did!”), as was Jones’ InfoWars colleague Paul Joseph Watson. But even Breitbart headlined its related story “Facebook Suspends Alex Jones for ‘Hate Speech’ Days After Execs Said It Wouldn’t,” as though the issue were merely a contract dispute, and most of the big conservative outlets let the event pass in embarrassed silence (including National Review, which last addressed Jones in the July 17 essay “Why Facebook Shouldn’t Ban InfoWars“).
But Jones has at least a few out-and-proud major defenders in rightwing world. For one, Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson claimed CNN was “agitating for Alex Jones to be pulled off YouTube,” and added, “Now I know we’re supposed to think Alex Jones is way more radical than, like, Bill Maher, Michelle Wolf, or Rosie O’Donnell, but he’s got a point of view …” Jones is also a comedian, see, only one who specializes in dead-children jokes.
And Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, locked in a surprisingly tough race with Democrat Beto O’Rourke and apparently hoping to stir up his base, tweeted, “Am no fan of Jones — among other things he has a habit of repeatedly slandering my Dad by falsely and absurdly accusing him of killing JFK — but who the hell made Facebook the arbiter of political speech? Free speech includes views you disagree with. #1A.”
“[Cruz’s] tweet on Saturday confused legal experts,” reported Salon. But those of us who know how scared big media companies, social or otherwise, are of even the fringiest wingnut and how likely such complaints are to produce the desired effect, were not confused at all.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 30, 2018