The White House is right to collect info from victims of social media bans

The White House launched a new site to collect reports of Americans banned on social media. This is a good idea.

I expect to get flamed for this opinion. I’m no fan of Trump. But let’s take this apart, independent of who is collecting the information. I’ll analyze it the form of a Q & A.

Should social media platforms allow all anyone to post anything?

Absolutely not. Harassment, incitement to violence, and hate speech are all terrible, and the platforms have a responsibility to stop them. They should also stop people pretending to be someone they’re not.

So you don’t believe in free speech?

Actually, I believe strongly in free speech. But Facebook and Twitter are private companies. They can implement whatever policies they want. I’m posting right now on this blog and no one can stop me: that’s free speech. I can stand outside the State House in Boston and shout whatever I want to passersby, short of death threats and incitements to riot. But Facebook is not the public square, no matter how much we want to believe it is — it can have its own policies, just like any other publisher or site.

Do you believe that Facebook, Google, and Twitter’s policies are biased?

I don’t know. I think they try to avoid bias. But it is virtually impossible for them be consistent given that the forms of speech they are banning are hard to nail down.

Much of the speech they are banning is based on white supremacist leanings from posters threatening people of color, gay people, Muslims, and Jews. I don’t happen to believe that hateful people deserve a platform.

There is far less of this type of threatening speech from far-left groups than from far-right. For this reason, such bans can appear biased — if you think that white supremacy is a legitimate viewpoint.

So why do you think the White House should be able to collect information on banned people?

Let me be clear. I believe anyone should be able to collect information on banned people and speech.

As things stand now, we have very little information about how consistently Facebook or Twitter enforce their bans. There is no data. I have already called for these companies to open up their algorithms for testing, to improve our knowledge of how they work.

In the absence of that action, how are we to know how they are behaving? What the White House is doing is one way.

But why stop at the White House? The ACLU should set up a similar data collection system. So should the Democratic Party, the NAACP, and any other group that feels it may be being treated unfairly.

I want to see publicity for all the cases where people are banned. I want to know how Facebook and Twitter are making their decisions. Let’s get it all out there.

Is the White House telling the truth about why it is collecting this information?

Here’s what it says on the White House site:

SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS should advance FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Yet too many Americans have seen their accounts suspended, banned, or fraudulently reported for unclear “violations” of user policies. 

No matter your views, if you suspect political bias caused such an action to be taken against you, share your story with President Trump. 

Should social media platforms advance freedom of speech? Not completely. Will they collect and show examples of liberals being banned? Unlikely. But I take this request as written. They want stories of people who are banned, and they want to talk about it. I tested this White House site and it does just what you’d expect: asks for information about you and links to your pages, and then screenshots of how you were banned.

I do have one concern. It’s easy to fake this stuff. They’ll have trouble verifying it. But that’s a quibble.

Is this the White House’s job?

Arguably, no. It ought to be the purview of the Federal Trade Commission or the Federal Communications Commission.

But if you believe, as I do, that anyone should be able to collect this information, they why not the White House?

Can we trust this White House with this information?

I don’t trust this administration at all. But if they want to defend people who are hateful, let them do it — it will reveal more about President Trump’s defense of hate-mongers.

This information is freely contributed, public information. Why shouldn’t the White House, or anyone else, collect it?

Won’t this make it harder for technology platforms to ban hateful people?

If they are enforcing their policies fairly, they have nothing to fear. They’ll be able to defend their decisions.

If they are enforcing their policies with bias, well, they need to do better.

Given the amount of scrutiny on this issue already, I don’t think this adds any real pressure. Elizabeth Warren wants to break up Facebook and Google. Donald Trump, apparently, wants to shame them. They’re between a rock and hard place. Why should this additional action make any difference?

Trump did it. It’s wrong.

OK. Now you’re just being partisan.

Let’s judge actions, not people. That’s my principle. Apply it here, and you have to admit that more transparency is better, regardless of your opinions on President Trump.

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  1. I’m in total agreement with you. I’ve had my memes erased from Facebook not because of hatred, or any of the evils they accuse — but because they were historically correct, but against the popular ideology. Logic has now been labeled at the least “conservative” and at the most “hateful”

  2. I don’t have any problem with information collection by anyone. On that, we agree. What I have a problem with is censorship, biased influence at scale, and the ridiculousness that all political discourse has become. If one disagrees with the left’s POV, you must be a bigot. If one disagrees with the right’s POV, you must be a socialist. If one creates satire on either side, it’s considered offensive and automatically banned. Meanwhile both “sides” are guilty of having exhibited violence against each other. People just see what they want to see through the lens of their preferred media outlets, which are all biased one way or the other. People need to start thinking for themselves instead of subscribing to fashionable ideologies or just seeing the world through a single lens. People need to stop stomping their feet and putting their hands over the ears like toddlers when they run into someone who might actually have a different perspective. People need to get back to having rational, respectful conversations about ideas rather than spewing hateful, closed-minded, bullshit (you’re welcome). Until then, we’ll see more people banned, we’ll see more violent protests, and we’ll see our college campuses continue to turn into sad caricatures of themselves. But hey, let’s keep investigating our political enemies on the taxpayers’ dime. By all means, let’s continue this schoolyard fight so we can all watch and yell from the sidelines. I fear the world in which my children will be adults.

  3. If you look at the details of the White House request, you will see that they are also asking those who submit their tales of suspected political bias to submit a lot of personal information, with little explanation of how it would be used. How could that possibly go wrong? This should not be the role of the White House, particularly the Trump White House.

  4. Josh, your sixth question — “Is this the White House’s job” — probably deserves to be higher in the chain.

    The crux of this is whom should collect this information. I agree with you that it would be preferable for the FTC or FCC to collect the information and manage this challenge.

  5. “I don’t happen to believe that hateful people deserve a platform.” – I agree with that.

    “There is far less of this type of threatening speech from far-left groups than from far-right.” – Far less? Really?

    “Do you believe that Facebook, Google, and Twitter’s policies are biased? I don’t know. I think they try to avoid bias. But it is virtually impossible for them be consistent given that the forms of speech they are banning are hard to nail down.” – Hard to nail down, yet you (sort of) nailed it.