What the Right Wing Got Wrong About Social Media Bias

Cheyne Gateley/VIP

Tech giants have rolled out a fresh batch of bans in recent days that affected many conservative voices:

  • Reddit banned the pro-Trump subreddit named The_Donald, as part of a sweeping 2,000-subreddit ban to clean the platform of hate speech. 
  • Twitch temporarily banned an account belonging to the Trump campaign for “hateful conduct” aired on stream. 
  • YouTube banned six channels, including ex-KKK leader David Duke, for hate-speech violations. 
  • Facebook announced it was banning a far-right anti government “boogaloo” group from its platform, under the social company’s Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy.

It’s nothing new for the big tech firms ⁠— namely Facebook and Twitter — to face allegations that they silence conservative voices amid their efforts to make their platforms more advertiser-friendly. Who could forget that just about one month ago President Trump accused social platforms of working to “totally silence conservative voices” and pushed to regulate them after Twitter fact-checked some of his tweets. 

And just a couple of days ago, Donald Trump Jr. on Fox Business said big tech platforms “are doing whatever they can to manipulate an election to make sure certain content is pushed.” 

In fairness, not all bans were probably seen as equal by those who feel social platforms are muzzling voices on the right — Reddit and Twitch’s bans probably elicited the most anger.

But the point is, the anger is still there. Tom Fitton, president of conservative activist group Judicial Watch, referred to the Twitch ban as “More Election interference by Big Tech” to his 1 million Twitter followers, for example. 

In reality, the credibility of these claims is proportional to the level of amnesic mindset one chooses to adopt. 

In a vacuum, this week’s tech bans might serve to form one’s case for partisan censorship. 

Problem is, as mentioned above, these silencing accusations are ongoing, and have continually been disproven by data, court rulings, and even conservative voices. 

In July 2018, liberal nonprofit press watchdog Media Matters published the results of a six-month study that found right-leaning and left-leaning Facebook pages had almost identical average interaction rates. 

Meanwhile, the Knight Foundation studied tens of millions of tweets and found in a December 2019 study that sampled users from the center-left attracted the most retweets, mentions, or replies overall (when compared to engagement levels of users on the far-left, center-right, and far-right) because the center-left was the largest segment. 

But when controlling for vast differences in segment size, the center-right segment accrued the most retweets, mentions, or replies per user, indicating greater attention to their posts on average, according to the Knight Foundation.

More recently, the Conservative Party of the U.K. received 10% more engagements, including positive ones, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram than the Labour Party (a left-wing party in the U.K.) in 2019, despite the fact that former party had just 60% as many followers as the latter across those platforms, according to creative agency We Are Social. 

It’s also seemingly not acknowledged by those crying of tech’s partisan bias that conservative voices rule Facebook. Over the month of May 2020, six of the top 10 U.S. political media pages on Facebook belonged to conservatives, per CrowdTangle. Ben Shapiro and Breitbart generated the most engagements (likes, comments, and shares) of any other U.S. political media page, accounting for 29% and 23% of engagements. 

The NYT’s tech columnist Kevin Roose also regularly tweets out the top-performing Facebook link posts, which seemingly always features conservative voices and causes. 

And when Facebook and Twitter themselves have looked inward to address bias claims, results to a similar tune have been found. Facebook last year voluntarily arranged for an audit (led by former GOP Sen. Jon Kyl) to review concerns of perceived Facebook bias against conservatives, and the results, which didn’t include data, were inconclusive at best. Twitter in 2019 conducted its own political bias study and claimed that tweets by Republicans and Democrats performed equally, although it chose not to release that data publicly.

There’s also the list of many social media bias lawsuits that have failed in court over years, and the fact that the Trump campaign credits social media with its 2016 win: Brad Parscale, Trump’s now-campaign manager told Wired in 2016: “Facebook and Twitter were the reason we won this thing. Twitter for Mr. Trump. And Facebook for fundraising.”

More evidence is available, but the point is clear: Those alleging social-media conservative censorship are unknowingly too heavily relying on the anecdotes, or willingly doing so just as an easy way to galvanize their bases.