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Conservatives unfriend Facebook

Silicon Valley’s actions against the right create a “techlash”


The Facebook app on a smartphone Associated Press/Photo by Wilfredo Lee (file)

Conservatives unfriend Facebook

On May 5, the Heritage Foundation announced it would no longer accept funds from big technology companies due to what it called an anti-conservative bias on platforms like Facebook and Google. Last year, the think tank rejected six-figure contributions from both companies. “We cannot in good conscience take money from a company that repeatedly, and blatantly, suppresses conservative speech on your platforms,” wrote Kay Coles James, president of Heritage, to Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

The vow spurred the Media Research Center to create a pledge from other conservative leaders to reject donations from tech giants. More than 40 conservative leaders, including those from The Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel, and the American Principles Project, signed it.

These moves are the latest signs of a swelling “techlash” on the right, fueled by concerns that Silicon Valley tech giants disproportionately demote and remove conservative posts and pages. Some conservatives now argue the companies should no longer be able to hide behind the curtain of their algorithms to excuse such incidents. Tech executives, who have long found allies on the right due to their success in the American marketplace, now face a hostile new political reality.

“For the longest time, Republican talking points about Big Tech were very positive,” said Jon Schweppe, director of policy at the American Principles Project, a pro-family think tank.

He said the tide began to shift around 2018, when Americans began to say social media companies preferred liberal viewpoints. And incidents seeming to confirm those views mounted: Twitter fact-checked former President Donald Trump’s tweets; reports leaked that Google employees discussed combatting Trump’s policies; Amazon prevented some conservative organizations from receiving donations; and Facebook and Twitter narrowed the reach of some conservative political voices. Social media companies have also come under fire from the right for giving Trump the boot in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Facebook has also pulled political ads from the American Principles Project. Schweppe argues this gives Democrats an unfair advantage in elections: “When in a partisan way [social media companies] are censoring ads from the right and not the left—they’re having a huge impact on what voters see.”

Schweppe also points to the November 2018 election of Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., as a catalyst for changing attitudes on the right. Soon after his arrival, Hawley introduced a bill targeting tech companies’ liability protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). The CDA shields social media companies from facing liability for content users post, a protection other media do not have. Hawley’s bill would have required companies to prove they do not moderate content in politically biased ways in order to maintain those protections.

“When you look at it, the errors en masse are on one side and that is the conservative side. There are exceptions to that but it is overwhelming,” Kara Frederick, a research fellow on technology for the Heritage Foundation, said. “When you have the companies’ standards inconsistently applied and enforced, that’s a crisis of their own making.”

Some on the right still argue that social media platforms, as private companies, should be free from government interference and regulations, and that they can censor without violating the First Amendment. Americans for Prosperity, a libertarian-leaning group, has argued attempts to regulate social media companies, particularly by breaking them up, could backfire and hurt competition and innovation in the marketplace.

It’s unclear whether such voices will manage to stem the tide of the techlash or if the disenchantment will grow. Republicans, who have recently lost control of the White House and are in the minority in Congress, are also unable to implement their party’s policy agenda, even should they come to find intraparty common ground.

Schweppe says he hopes the GOP will take this time to iron out and rally around policies and solutions. Meanwhile, he says, the pressure is increasing: “Companies are having to take reform efforts on the right more seriously.”


Harvest Prude

Harvest is a former political reporter for WORLD’s Washington Bureau. She is a World Journalism Institute and Patrick Henry College graduate.

@HarvestPrude

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BBLO2637

Thank you for this reporting. The censoring and suppression from the likes of Google, Facebook, Apple, and Twitter has turned hostile to a biblical worldview. A new liberal culture swing is underway to combat this new totalitarian oligarchy of business and political class. Is World News Group going to stand up too and remove FB, Twitter, and YouTube links on its pages? Actions speak louder than words. Take a page from Heritage and don’t sell out values.

SJSBBLO2637

Very few sites include a link to MeWe which is an excellent alternative to FB. Unfortunately I see that many who are concerned about these issues actually don't make any move away. I was able to encourage quite a few friends, actual acquaintances, to set up MeWe accounts. I even started two MeWe groups a la FB. Many signed up. BUT... Then I never see them posting but they remain on FB. Why is this? One help would be to have links to click to share one's thoughts. I've heard all of the excuses about family being on FB and other excuses. Cut the cord and cut the subsidies. It's like taking a shower to clean of the dirt and mire. You feel so much better afterwards.

CJ

How does refusing to take their money hurt social media companies?

WMIL4860CJ

It may be that the refusal to accept their funds prevents those companies from making statements that they support a variety of viewpoints and are not biased by pointing to the money given and accepted by different organizations. Refusal also prevents the recipients from sending a message that they endorse the tech companies by accepting their funds. Also, a potential trap is that organizations grow to be dependent on such funds and then eventually cave to pressure in order to keep receiving.