The suppression of conservative opinions and venues by social media giants — Google/YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and Instagram — has been an issue for years. Those attempting to present “non-progressive” points of view have battled in court to keep alive the constitutional right of freedom of speech. But this dangerous suppression of viewpoints exists even at the micro-level, as I recently discovered after sharing a link to a video on a community forum app. Suddenly, I became the target of vitriolic posts and was even chastised by the app censors, all of which demonstrates how extensive, pervasive, and personal is the threat to our continued freedom of expression.
I saw that threat played out in the realm of political opinion and followed the battles against it. In 2017, PragerU filed a lawsuit against YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, for unlawfully censoring over 200 videos and curtailing its right to free speech. Founded in 2009, within six years, the site had attracted over 1 billion viewers to its videos.
But access to those videos was soon limited by social media, with restrictions placed on viewing such titles as “Israel’s Legal Founding” by Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz; “The Ten Commandments: Do Not Murder” by Torah scholar Dennis Prager; and “Why Did Americans Fight the Korean War?” by Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and recipient of a National Humanities Medal. The damage to PragerU resulting from YouTube’s censorship has been substantial, as YouTube is the largest forum for video viewership in the world.
Other sites have experienced similar restrictions. In 2018, Project Veritas, a nonprofit that uses undercover journalists to conduct investigations and expose corruption, captured Twitter employees admitting to censoring conservatives by shadowbanning. Shadowbanning limits the distribution and visibility of certain Twitter accounts so that fewer people can engage with the content.
That same year, Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch founder Larry Klayman filed a class action lawsuit against social media giants Google/YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and Instagram for violations of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Klayman alleged illegal and anticompetitive actions that restricted conservative and pro-Trump advocacy groups.
Last July, Canadian psychologist and popular public speaker Jordan Peterson announced that he was creating a social media site — ThinkSpot, a pro–free speech site, to respond to selective censorship by Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. The restrictions have included deplatforming or site suspensions and demonetizing, a process that impedes a website’s ability to make money from advertisements by limiting access.
This ongoing viewpoint discrimination — public forum attempts to control communications and restrict freedom of speech — is specifically prohibited under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which limits liability for content supplied by a website.
My own experience with viewpoint discrimination on a micro-level occurred on Election Day, March 3, when I joined a discussion with neighbors on the Nextdoor app. Residents within specific neighborhoods use this public forum to discuss issues of mutual interest such as local burglary reports, local restaurant reviews, and plumber referrals.
Under a thread entitled “Know your Voting Rights — The Poll Workers May Not,” neighbors were talking about being asked to show their IDs at the polls. Some also discussed voter fraud. I participated by supplying a link to a PragerU video, “Is Voter Fraud Real?,” produced by the Government Accountability Institute, a nonprofit conservative think-tank founded by best-selling author and political consultant Peter Schweizer and Steve Bannon, former White House chief strategist to President Trump.
The PragerU video featured investigative reporter Eric Eggers, who explained three sources of voter fraud: 1) phony voters on the rolls, 2) ballot-harvesting, and 3) voting by non-citizens. Eggers explained that in 244 U.S. counties, more registered voters exist than the number of people legally eligible to vote; that in 29 counties, more registered voters are listed than the number of legal residents; and that eight states have more registered voters than actual people of voting age. Eggers cited a Pew Research Center statistic that 24 million voter registrations in the U.S. are no longer valid or are significantly inaccurate. In addition, Eggers mentioned that 11 states allow non-citizen voters.
After simply contributing the link with the description “excellent video,” I was wholly unprepared for the backlash that came my way. A Nextdoor netizen responded, “Prager is a whackjob racist and so are you,” which she followed up with “Screenshot! I’m reporting you!” Someone else wrote that repercussions exist for being racist and sharing “low-key microaggressions” and that “people have to watch what they say or type in public forums because there are consequences.” I was dismissed as a “Trumpette; basically, a racist cheerleader.”
A few days later, I received a communiqué from my next-door neighborhood lead that my post had been reported and removed for violating Nextdoor’s community guideline: “Be helpful, not hurtful.” I immediately followed up with the lead to obtain more information about my alleged offense and the reasoning behind the video link removal.
Much to my horror and surprise, I was schooled and told that “PragerU is not a university and it is anything but non-partisan.” Furthermore, it was explained that the organization is a “vehicle for a conservative talk show host who lacks any credibility or gravitas.” The lead added that Dennis Prager even “questions climate change as well as whether a gender pay gap exists,” which makes him an “irrational and non-informed source.” It was suggested that I needed to do a better job of vetting my sources, as my selection was clearly lacking.
Noteworthy was the fact that I hadn’t insulted anyone by merely supplying a link to an informative video that anyone was free to disagree with. Let the debate begin, but why remove a posting that is disagreeable to some people? Obviously, there is no tolerance for differing points of view, and simply posting the video link is ample evidence of my being “hurtful.” Meanwhile, statements about my being a “whackjob racist like Dennis Prager” were allowed to remain.
The vitriol toward a nationally syndicated talk show host and me, by extension, and the fallacious charge of being “hurtful” indicate that censorship is pervasive and even operates at the micro-level on a community app. It is part of the overall suppression of conservative opinions and venues rampant today, with much of the media controlled by those who label themselves “progressives.” Indeed, the most powerful websites, which decide what people see and don’t see, are run by donors to the Democrat party. Fully 80 percent of Twitter’s corporate PAC contributions went to Democrats in 2018, the year shadowbanning was revealed. Ninety percent of political contributions from Google-related companies, more than $5.8 million, went to Democratic candidates and causes in 2016.
No wonder the social media giants try to block or minimize conservative news and opinions and program search engine results to favor a liberal point of view. If this isn’t changed by anti-trust actions and the successful pursuit of lawsuits such as the ones mentioned above, presentation of diverse viewpoints will be a relic from the past, and our liberty and freedom of expression will be in grave jeopardy.