Conservative claims of online censorship ‘a form of disinformation:’ study
Claims that conservative voices are being censored online by social media platforms are not backed by evidence and are themselves a disinformation narrative, according to a report released Monday.
The New York University Stern Center for Business and Human Rights’ report concluded that anti-conservative bias claims, boosted by some top Republican lawmakers including former President Trump, are not based on any tangible evidence.
“The claim of anti-conservative animus is itself a form of disinformation: a falsehood with no reliable evidence to support it. No trustworthy large-scale studies have determined that conservative content is being removed for ideological reasons or that searches are being manipulated to favor liberal interests,” the report stated.
Republicans have ramped up accusations that social media companies have an anti-conservative bias after Facebook and Twitter took action to ban Trump’s account following the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.
Twitter says it has permanently banned the former president from its platform, while Facebook is leaving the final decision up to its independent oversight body.
The allegation of censorship has been key in Republicans’ attacks on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects social media platforms from liability associated with third-party content posted on their sites.
Despite the repeated accusations by Republicans, the report found that by “many measures, conservative voices — including that of the ex-president, until he was banished from Twitter and Facebook — often are dominant in online political debates.”
For example, the report highlighted the engagement on Trump’s Facebook page compared to now-President Biden’s page during the three months leading up to Election Day. Trump elicited 87 percent of the total 307 million post interactions between the two, compared to Biden’s 13 percent.
Additionally, the report noted that Fox News and Breitbart News led the pack in terms of Facebook interactions with posts by media organizations from Jan. 1 through Nov. 3 of last year. Fox News had 448 million interactions and Breitbart had 295 million; the closest behind them was CNN, at 191 million interactions.
With Biden in office, Republicans have continued to push back against Section 230 over the unfounded accusations of anti-conservative biases.
The report recommends the Biden administration work with Congress to update Section 230, rather than pushing for a repeal of the law as Trump sought before leaving office.
“The controversial law should be amended so that its liability shield is conditional, based on social media companies’ acceptance of a range of new responsibilities related to policing content. One of the new platform obligations could be ensuring that algorithms involved in content ranking and recommendation not favor sensationalistic or unreliable material in pursuit of user engagement,” the report stated.
Biden’s nominee to serve as the secretary of Commerce, current Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D), said last week during a Senate confirmation hearing that the law needs some reform, indicating the administration is open to amending it.
Biden during his presidential campaign said Section 230 should be revoked, but he has largely not detailed plans moving forward.
The report also recommends the Biden administration create a new Digital Regulatory Agency. The agency would be charged with enforcing the responsibilities of a revised Section 230.
Additionally, it recommends the Biden administration pursue a constructive reform agenda for social media, including pressing the companies on improving and enforcing content policies.
As for social media companies, the report recommends the industry provide greater disclosure on content moderation actions, offer users a choice among content moderation algorithms, undertake more “vigorous” human moderation of influential accounts and release more data for researchers.
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