“The Trump Administration is fighting for free speech online,” the White House tweeted Wednesday afternoon. “No matter your views, if you suspect political bias has caused you to be censored or silenced online, we want to hear about it!”
The White House’s tweet directed people to a form which first asked users for personal information, such as their name and whether they are an American citizen.
After users entered the personal information, the form then asked them to describe the alleged bias that occurred, which platform it occurred on, and if they had screenshots of any messages they received from the company that took action.
Toward the end, the form also requested permission to add the user to an email newsletter so it could provide updates “without relying on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.”
The move by the White House came on the same day it announced that the United States will not be joining the Christchurch Call for Action, an effort that encouraged technology companies to collaborate with governments to stymie the use of social media in acts of terrorism.
It also came just weeks after Facebook banned several high-profile extremists, prompting the President to rage against social media companies in a weekend Twitter tirade.
Trump and top Republicans have for years accused companies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter of being biased against conservatives. But those attacks have ramped up in recent months as the social media companies have taken action to reduce toxic content on their platforms.
To support their claims, Trump and top Republicans have cherry-picked examples. Many of those examples have been misleading and not examples of bias or malfeasance by the tech companies.
In the past month, for instance, Trump and Republicans such as Sen. Ted Cruz have suggested Twitter banned right-wing actor James Woods for his political ideology.
A Twitter spokesperson, however, said Woods was never actually banned. In fact, the spokesperson said, Woods was only suspended after he tweeted the hashtag #HangThemAll, which violated the company’s terms of service. The Twitter spokesperson said Woods’ account would be unlocked after that particular tweet was removed. Woods has not tweeted since mid-April.
Trump himself has accused technology companies of bias against him. In April, he tweeted that Twitter is “very discriminatory” and does not “treat me well as a Republican.” Later in the day, during an Oval Office meeting with Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey, Trump even raised the issue of the size of his Twitter following.
Claims of social media censorship have also made their way to Congress. Lawmakers have held various hearings over the past year on the so-called practice of “social media filtering.”
At the hearings, Republicans such as Rep. Steve King of Iowa have cited articles from far-right media outlets such as the Gateway Pundit to accuse social media companies of bias against conservatives. At one hearing last year, the pro-Trump “Diamond & Silk” duo, who repeatedly spread misinformation about Facebook, was even invited to testify.
The narrative of social media bias is unlikely to go away anytime soon. Republicans and right-wing media outlets understand that the message resonates with and whips up the conservative base.
Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, told CNN last year that he anticipates the issue of alleged social media bias will be a campaign issue Republicans can use to their advantage.
“I think by the time 2020 comes along, this will be a burning issue,” Bannon said at the time. “I think this will be one of the biggest domestic issues.”