AUSTIN (KXAN) — Republican lawmakers say conservative voices are being silenced on social media — but what do the metrics say?
On Friday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced he was joining Sen. Bryan Hughes’ Senate Bill 12, which they say will prohibit platforms from censoring conservative — and/or free — speech.
As part of the bill, social media sites with over 100 million users would be prohibited from censoring posts based on a person’s viewpoint — and users who say they’ve been censored would be able to sue a site for it.
“Conservative speech will not be cancelled in the state of Texas,” Abbott said. “[This bill] would allow any Texan who has been cancelled, censored or de-platformed to file a lawsuit against Twitter, Facebook or any of these other companies.”
In their February NYU study, “False Accusation: The Unfounded Claim that Social Media Companies Censor Conservatives,” authors Paul M. Barrett and J. Grant Sims found “there are no credible studies showing that Twitter removes tweets for ideological reasons…”
Barrett and Grant Sims write that the claim that social media is biased is disinformation, as metric data from monitoring site CrowdTangle shows that from September 3 to November 3, 2020 (Election Day), former President Donald Trump dominated in social reach among all politicians.
And it wasn’t even close.
On Facebook alone, Trump received 87% of total interactions on campaign posts — compared to now-President Biden’s 13%.
Meanwhile, CrowdTangle data also showed that from January 1 to Election Day, Trump received over 654 million Facebook interactions among all politicians. The closest runner-up? Bernie Sanders with 33 million.
Despite this, former President Trump further claimed he was being hushed on social media, taking aim at “Big Tech” like Facebook, Google and Twitter, the latter of which would eventually permanently ban Trump from its platform for violation of terms of service.
Twitter’s Trump dump came in the immediate aftermath of the January 6 fatal riot and storming of the U.S. Capitol. Twitter said it suspended the @realDonaldTrump and @TeamTrump accounts due to the concern that Trump helped incite the incident.
On its page explaining censorship, Twitter says it has a responsibility to reduce the spread of potential harmful misinformation. Last year, the platform began using labels on Tweets and links to indicate the information may be disputed, completely false or missing context.
Meanwhile, Barrett and Grant Sims found that far from silencing conservative views, “a variety of analyses and rankings indicate conservatives enjoy a prominent place on major social media platforms.”
CrowdTangle data also showed that from January 1 to Election Day 2020, the top engagement-getting news accounts were conservative Fox News in first place (with 448 million total interactions) and far-right media outlet Breitbart in second (294 million). The third was another conservative-leaning source, The Daily Caller.
“There is no evidence to support the claim that the major social media companies are suppressing, censoring or otherwise discriminating against conservatives on their platforms,” Barrett writes in the study. “In fact, it is often conservatives who gain the most in terms of engagement and online attention, thanks to the platforms’ systems of algorithmic promotion of content.”
Another study by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, in collaboration with Politico, “Disinformation Briefing: Narratives around Black Lives Matter and voter fraud,” found conservative posts spreading inaccuracies about the two topics were amplified. Among these posts that proliferated were still unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud resulted in a stolen election.
This is despite the fact that both the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency — who called the 2020 election “the most secure in American history” — and Trump-appointed former U.S. Attorney General William Barr both said no evidence of fraud existed that would have changed the election’s outcome.
In the wake of tightened restrictions, many conservatives flocked to places like the controversial (and previously suspended) Parler and chat app Telegram. Such platforms have faced intense scrutiny and operation hurdles following the deadly Jan. 6 attack.
Regardless of these data, an August Pew Research Center poll found 90% of U.S. adult Republicans believe social media sites censor political viewpoints. A majority 71% of those polled said they disapproved of social media companies even labeling posts.
One question remains, however: even if social media sites were blocking certain voices, can they? While First Amendment rights protect free speech for individuals, it does not protect individuals’ free speech from a private entity. But given the relative newness of social media, for many, the jury’s still out on whether Facebook can dislike your post or Twitter can de-tweet your tweet.