Internet platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are not systematically biased against conservatives or right-wing viewpoints in their content moderation practices, according to an analysis from NYU researchers.
According to the report released Monday, “False Accusation: The Unfounded Claim that Social Media Companies Censor Conservatives,” the allegation that social media companies engage in anti-conservative bias “is itself a form of disinformation: a falsehood with no reliable evidence to support it.”
“No trustworthy large-scale studies have determined that conservative content is being removed for ideological reasons,” the NYU report says. “Even anecdotal evidence of supposed bias tends to crumble under close examination.”
In fact, the report, produced by the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, cited evidence that social media platforms have actually amplified right-leaning voices algorithmically to reach “unprecedented audiences,” often giving conservatives greater reach than liberal or nonpartisan content creators. The report analyzed data from multiple sources, including past reports like a 2020 study from Politico and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and social-data analytics firms CrowdTangle and NewsWhip.
Former President Donald Trump and a legion of U.S. conservatives have complained loudly that Big Tech somehow treats right-leaning users and content differently than others on the political spectrum.
Trump specifically took umbrage at decisions by the likes of Twitter and Facebook to stamp out misinformation on their services. In the waning days of his presidency, Trump had demanded that Congress repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which grants internet companies legal protections for content shared on their services and allows them to moderate posts as they see fit.
Trump was permanently banned by Twitter after the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump rioters. Trump had posted a video tweet on that day telling the mob, “We love you, you’re very special,” and also said, “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long.” Other platforms, including Facebook and YouTube, have suspended Trump’s access indefinitely in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Predictably, Trump lashed out against “political censorship” by tech platforms in his final YouTube video. But the NYU researchers said there’s simply nothing to suggest Big Tech has a pattern of disproportionately penalizing conservatives.
“There is no evidence to support the claim that the major social media companies are suppressing, censoring, or otherwise discriminating against conservatives on their platforms,” Paul Barrett, the report’s main author and deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, said in a statement. “In fact, it is often conservatives who gain the most in terms of engagement and online attention, thanks to the platforms’ systems of algorithmic promotion of content.”
The report concluded with recommendations for social media platforms and the Biden administration to improve online content moderation practices. For the tech companies, those include: greater disclosure around content moderation decisions; allowing users to customize their content moderation algorithms; and hiring more human content moderators for high-profile accounts.
For the White House, the NYU report recommended working with Congress to implement reforms, including amending Section 230 to require tech platforms to adopt responsible content moderation policies, and to create a new digital regulatory agency responsible for enforcing an updated Section 230.