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Trump wants supporters views on social media censorship and their contact details

New information-gathering website based on complaints about social media censorship

Patricia Mazzei
Thursday 16 May 2019 11:48 BST
The WhatsApp messaging app is displayed on an Apple iPhone
The WhatsApp messaging app is displayed on an Apple iPhone (Getty Images)

The Trump administration escalated its conflict with the tech industry on Wednesday, unveiling a website that asks people who think their viewpoints have been censored by social media platforms to share their stories — and their contact information.

President Donald Trump, who seems to relish little more than a tweet storm, has repeatedly attacked Google, Facebook and Twitter for what he alleges is their bias against and suppression of conservative users. The companies have repeatedly denied those accusations.

The website published by the White House on Wednesday took those complaints to a new level, marrying the president’s online grievances to a data-gathering operation that could help him mobilize potential supporters during his re-election campaign.

The website’s opening page begins with a caps-lock proclamation that sounds like an applause line from one of the president’s raucous rallies: “SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS should advance FREEDOM OF SPEECH.”

“Too many Americans have seen their accounts suspended, banned, or fraudulently reported for unclear ‘violations’ of user policies,” the site tells visitors. “No matter your views, if you suspect political bias caused such an action to be taken against you, share your story with President Trump.”

It then asks for a veritable wealth of personal data — including a visitor’s first and last name, age, ZIP code, phone number and citizenship status — before ending with a disclaimer one might find in the packaging of a new tech gadget.

“Please confirm that you accept the user agreement and that you understand this form is for information gathering only,” the site tells visitors.

“The White House cannot guarantee a response to submissions.”

Conservatives have increasingly focused on the tech industry as a battleground in the culture wars, accusing companies like Google, Apple and Facebook of mistreating users who express conservative views or voice support for Trump.

Several tech executives, including Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, have testified on Capitol Hill or met with Trump about those accusations.

“We enforce the Twitter Rules impartially for all users, regardless of their background or political affiliation,” a Twitter spokeswoman said Wednesday. “We are constantly working to improve our systems and will continue to be transparent in our efforts.”

Conrad Black on Trump: 'Donald is a moderate'

Facebook and YouTube declined to comment on the new White House site, which also asks visitors to share the URL of their social media accounts and a screenshot of any post they believe was censored by a tech company.

The president often credits Twitter with his political success, but he has eagerly attacked the tech industry and said Congress should exercise greater oversight of its activities.

“They don’t treat me well as a Republican,” he wrote on Twitter in April, just before an Oval Office meeting with Mr. Dorsey. “Very discriminatory, hard for people to sign on. Constantly taking people off list.”

Trump attacked Twitter last July, accusing the company (in a tweet, of course) of manipulating conservatives’ posts so they were essentially invisible to other people on the platform, a practice called “shadow banning.” The company rejected that assertion, saying it does not shadow ban anyone.

One month later, in a series of early morning tweets, Trump attacked Google. He accused the company of intentionally burying positive stories about his administration in its search results, which the company denied. Later that day, he warned Google, Facebook and Twitter that they “have to be careful.”

And in March, Dan Scavino, the White House social media director, accused Facebook of bias after it temporarily blocked him from replying to comments on his personal Facebook page. Trump announced that he would look into the block, which Facebook said happened because its systems had mistakenly flagged Scavino as a bot.

The conservative campaign against the Internet industry became more heated last summer after Apple, Google and Facebook removed content from Alex Jones, a far-right conspiracy theorist who runs the site Infowars.

Jones interviewed Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign (Trump told Jones, “Your reputation is amazing”) and has been a vocal supporter of his administration.

This month, Facebook banned seven controversial accounts — most of the individuals are conservatives, including Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos, a former Breitbart News editor — from its platform, provoking a new round of bias accusations from conservatives.

Trump, who has resisted all efforts from advisers and lawyers to limit his Twitter use, views the social media platform as a critical tool in his presidency.

He routinely credits Twitter for his political success, calling it a “tremendous platform” that allows him to circumvent what he deems to be unfair media coverage and speak directly to his base of supporters.

“I doubt I would be here if it weren’t for social media, to be honest with you,” Trump said in a Fox News interview in 2017.

The New York Times

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