Facebook barred seven users from its services earlier this week, citing its policies against “dangerous individuals and organizations.” Now President Donald Trump is siding with the people who were banned and railing against social media “censorship” – all while using one of his favorite social sites.
The president shared more than a dozen tweets about the subject on Friday night and Saturday morning. And he conveniently avoided the fact that some of the banned users are extremists who make a living by deceiving their fans.
His posts were a rallying cry, full of resentment toward Big Tech. He said “It’s getting worse and worse for Conservatives on social media!”
But Facebook (FB) executives say this has nothing to do with ideology or political party – it’s about safety.
“We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNN Business when the bans were put into effect on Thursday.
The action affected Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who’s notorious for using anti-Semitic language; Paul Nehlen, an anti-Semite who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2016 and 2018; and far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
Jones and his media outlet InfoWars had previously been banned from Facebook, but had maintained a presence on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. Jones and InfoWars have now been evicted from Instagram as well, although there are questions about how thoroughly the ban is being applied.
The other banned individuals are the fringe right-wing media personalities Paul Joseph Watson, Milo Yiannopoulos and Laura Loomer.
The president is showing particular support for Watson, an InfoWars personality notorious for spreading misinformation. (In the past, Watson has peddled conspiracy theories about the unsolved murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich, the September 11 terrorist attacks, and so-called “chemtrails.”)
On Friday night Trump tweeted about Watson’s ban, and on Saturday morning he retweeted a video Watson made criticizing Facebook about it.
He also retweeted a bizarre video about Islam from a user named “Deep State Exposed.” And he called out Twitter, on Twitter, for blocking actor and right-wing personality James Woods’ account.
For the president and his allies, all of this contributes to a familiar storyline. Republican leaders and right-wing media outlets have been loudly accusing social media giants of bias and censorship at the same time that the companies have been taking steps to reduce toxic content on their sites.
The president has repeatedly cherry-picked examples to make his case against the sites. On Friday night he claimed that “Diamond and Silk,” a pro-Trump duo, have been “treated so horribly by Facebook” and “we’re looking into” it.
“I am continuing to monitor the censorship of AMERICAN CITIZENS on social media platforms,” Trump said in a separate tweet. “This is the United States of America — and we have what’s known as FREEDOM OF SPEECH! We are monitoring and watching, closely!!”
Users do not have government-protected freedom of speech on privately-owned platforms like Facebook.
The president recently invited Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to the White House for a meeting that touched on Twitter’s rules and other topics.
Hours before the April 23 sit-down, Trump complained (on Twitter) that the site is “very discriminatory” and does not “treat me well as a Republican.” He accused the company of “constantly taking people off list” – an apparent reference to Twitter’s efforts to weed out bots and other fake followers platform-wide that artificially inflate follower counts of users, including the president’s.
Claims of Big Tech censorship have also made their way to Congress. Lawmakers have held various hearings this year on the so-called practice of “social media filtering.” At the hearings, Republicans like Steve King of Iowa have cited articles from far-right media outlets like the Gateway Pundit to accuse social media companies of bias against conservatives. At one hearing last year, the “Diamond & Silk” duo was even invited to testify.
The politicians that advance these complaints understand that the narrative resonates with – and whips up – the conservative base.
That’s what the president’s Twitter feed looked like on Friday night and Saturday morning. After retweeting lots of critics of Big Tech, he asked when media outlets will “apologize to me for knowingly getting the Russia Collusion Delusion story so wrong?”
Then he suggested he likes the idea of some social media bans – if they affected the sources he can’t stand.
He asked: “Why is @nytimes, @washingtonpost, @CNN, @MSNBC allowed to be on Twitter & Facebook. Much of what they do is FAKE NEWS!”
Twitter and Facebook spokespeople did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Earlier this year, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, who has been under scrutiny for the social media company’s role in spreading misinformation and inadequately policing content, called for regulators to play a “more active role” in establishing rules for the internet.