Donald Trump has made absolutely no secret of his feelings on free speech: He hates it when it’s not servile paeans to him and his agenda. He’s called for opening up “libel laws” to make it easier to sue journalistic outfits, issued (empty) threats to revoke the broadcast licenses of TV outlets that embarrass him, suggested protesters should leave the country, backed right-wing campaigns against free speech on campuses, and all kinds of other awful stuff.
On the other hand, Trump has been happy to whip up frenzied claims of victimization by conservatives who insist they’re being discriminated against for their political views, with one major battleground being big Silicon Valley tech platforms like Facebook, Google, and Twitter. When he’s not just making stuff up, he’s screaming and yelling about anyone who identifies as conservative—including far-right trolls and conspiracy theorists—getting banned from social media or even just not having enough followers to slake their thirsty egos.
Now, on the heel of releasing a bonkers statement explaining its opposition to an international resolution calling for countries to fight violent hate speech online, the White House has set up an official web portal where his supporters can yell about whether their accounts have been “suspended, banned, or fraudulently reported for unclear ‘violations’ of user policies.”
The tweet does say that Trump wants to hear these stories “no matter your views,” which is rich.
Visitors to the page are greeted with the following message:
SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS should advance FREEDOM OF SPEECH. 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.
Users are then asked to name which companies (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, or Other) restricted their accounts, as well as describe the circumstances under which that happened and include screenshots of any communications they received explaining what rules were broken.
The grain of truth here is that tech companies have done an awful job of setting up clearly communicated, fairly enforced policies on what content is or is not allowed. It’s a huge mess, and Silicon Valley’s favorite go-to excuse when hate speech runs rampant is essentially that their platforms are too big to manage coherently. The systemic lack of transparency in the way almost all of these platforms operate has undermined public trust in them.
But that’s also not the White House’s concern. Unless there are dramatic changes to the regulatory environment faced by big social media companies, it will remain their prerogative to ban who they want, when they want. Trump-appointed Department of Justice Antitrust Division leaders have seemed largely uninterested in challenging tech behemoths. Trump has also waged legal battles over his habit of blocking critics on Twitter.
As the Daily Beast’s Kelly Weill and others have pointed out, the idea that the likes of Facebook and YouTube are cracking down left and right on conservatives isn’t supported by the data. (A supposedly rigorous “study” on libertarian-leaning website Quillette purporting to prove Twitter hates conservatives contained headache-inducing methodological flaws and included on its list of banned individuals or groups… the American Nazi Party.)
What the White House is really doing is fueling a totally unearned conservative grievance complex, one that positions Republicans and their allies as eternal victims and gives the president yet another punching bag.
Oh, and it’s also collecting phone numbers and email addresses for some purpose—which certainly couldn’t be the usage of official White House resources to add names to donor and get-out-the-vote lists for Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign. Because that would be questionably ethical!
The web portal also has a truly wild user agreement that says the U.S. government will be granted a permanent license “to use, edit, display, publish, broadcast, transmit, post, or otherwise distribute all or part of the Content (including edited, composite, or derivative works made therefrom)” submitted to it. Hmm.
In any case, you can put whatever nonsense you want into that White House submission form, and some Trump lackey may be forced to read it. Far be it from us to suggest that you report that you were banned from “Ass Mountain” for “lighting the fart that stank up the world,” but we can’t stop you from doing that either.