brad parscale | Media Matters for America

brad parscale

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  • Trump and GOP influencers escalate the debunked claim that social media is censoring conservatives

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Update (8:15 p.m.): In an interview with Reuters, President Trump said “I won’t mention names but when they take certain people off of Twitter or Facebook and they’re making that decision, that is really a dangerous thing because that could be you tomorrow."

    The conspiracy theory that social media companies are censoring conservatives got a boost this weekend when President Donald Trump took to Twitter to complain.

    Trump is just whining about social media censorship (on social media) to push for more favorable conditions on the platforms. As I’ve written before, realistically,  the Trump campaign isn’t going to abandon social media. It needs the platforms to reach voters via targeted advertising. The Trump campaign spent millions on digital ads in 2016, and it will do the same in 2020. But it can badger the platforms in hopes of getting more attention from sales staff and potentially discounted ad buys. The platforms, which stand to make millions from Trump and GOP ad buys in 2018 and 2020, are going to feel the pressure to keep the campaign -- and the GOP overall -- happy.

    Trump wasn’t the only GOP figure whining about censorship this weekend. GOP Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy claimed that Twitter was censoring Fox News host Laura Ingraham’s tweets and called on Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to “explain to Congress what’s going on.” What’s going on is that McCarthy doesn’t know how Twitter settings work. McCarthy could see Ingraham’s tweet by checking this box in his profile’s Twitter settings.

    Other users pointed this out to him, but as of this writing, the tweet is still live.

    Trump campaign senior adviser Katrina Pierson, who has ties to a pro-Trump fake news site, also tweeted about social media censorship and quoted Jim Hoft, founder of the far-right conspiracy site The Gateway Pundit.

    Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale retweeted Pierson.

    Fox News is also all-in on the debunked narrative. Turning Point USA spokesperson Candace Owens showed up on the network multiple times over the weekend to talk about the matter. Fox & Friends spent the weekend portraying conservatives as victims of social media.

    This morning was no different. Fox & Friends dedicated two segments to alleged social media censorship of conservatives. Mornings with Maria on Fox Business also discussed Trump’s social media rant.

    Here’s the problem. The claim of social media censoring conservatives has been pretty thoroughly debunked. Back in May 2016, a report claimed that conservative outlets and stories were “blacklisted” from Facebook’s Trending Topics section. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with conservatives, including a representative from Trump's 2016 campaign. And a subsequent internal investigation revealed “no evidence of systematic political bias” in the Trending Topics section. When the GOP started clamouring about censorship in April of this year -- after right-wing social media personalities Diamond and Silk falsely claimed their content was being censored on Facebook -- they offered no credible evidence. In fact, a report from the social media analytics firm NewsWhip found the opposite: “There are more than three times as many conservative publishers than liberal publishers on Facebook, and they receive more than 2.5 times the engagement on the social media platform than those who push opposing viewpoints,” the report claimed. Media Matters recently released a study of six months’ worth of data conclusively debunking this claim for Facebook pages. It found that right-wing Facebook pages are thriving.

    Trump’s tweets came just days after conspiracy theorist Alex Jones begged him for help on air. Other outlets have noted that Trump’s tweets could be interpreted as a defense of Jones, who has been banned from multiple platforms.

    Meanwhile, Republicans continue to harp on the conservative censorship conspiracy theory as a way to rally their base. Trump’s tweets this weekend are part of that overall strategy. But if Trump and the GOP are going to continue crying wolf, reporters should start asking if they’re talking about conservatives or Alex Jones and his ilk of hatemongers and conspiracy theorists. If the GOP wants to stand up for Jones’ right to harass the Sandy Hook families and spread hate, the party should feel comfortable naming him as the cause for complaint.

  • This data conclusively debunks the myth of conservative censorship on Facebook

    We studied Facebook pages that post content about American political news. Conservatives are not being censored -- in fact, right-wing Facebook pages are thriving.

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Right-wing politicians, pundits, and campaigns continually claim that Facebook and other tech platforms censor conservative content online. President Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, frequently makes this argument. At every congressional hearing about social media, Republican members reliably make the same accusation. The GOP-controlled House Judiciary Committee has already held one hearing on the supposed censorship, and they’re scheduled to hold a second on July 17. Conservatives believe that attacking tech companies about so-called censorship will rally their base, and they plan to continue the attacks.

    Even though those making these accusations have offered no evidence to support censorship claims, Facebook responded by announcing a conservative bias review -- retaining former Republican Sen. Jon Kyl from Arizona and his lobbying firm to advise the company. (Kyl is now also shepherding Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh through confirmation hearings.)

    It’s not the first time Facebook has reacted to claims of nonexistent right-wing censorship. In May 2016, a flimsy report claimed that conservative outlets and stories were “blacklisted” from Facebook’s Trending Topics section. To great fanfare, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with conservatives, including a representative from Trump's campaign, and made promises to be good to them. A subsequent internal investigation revealed “no evidence of systematic political bias” in the Trending Topics section. But Facebook soon gave in anyway and fired the curators of the section, resorting instead to using an algorithm that routinely promoted fabricated stories from bogus sources. Add this cravenness to existing confirmation bias and plenty of dishonest actors willing to take advantage, and Facebook became a cesspool of fake news.

    The algorithm change that was announced in January 2018 was supposed to fix to the fake news problem, which existed only because of previous failures at Facebook. And now with Facebook rolling out the welcome mat for conservatives, we’re about to begin that cycle anew.

    And once again, conservatives are pressuring Facebook with a total myth. Media Matters conducted an extensive six-month study into alleged conservative censorship on Facebook and found no evidence that conservative content is being censored on the platform or that it is not reaching a large audience.

    We identified 463 Facebook pages that had more than 500,000 likes each and regularly posted content dealing with American political news. We analyzed data from these pages, week by week, between January 1, 2018, and July 1, 2018, to observe trends in post interactions (reactions, comments, and shares) and page likes. We found two key things:

    • Partisan pages had roughly equal engagement, and they had more engagement than nonpartisan pages: Right-leaning and left-leaning Facebook pages had virtually identical average interaction rates -- measurements of a page's engagement -- at .18 percent and .17 percent, respectively, and nonaligned pages had the lowest interaction rates at .08 percent.
    • Right-leaning pages in total have a bigger presence on Facebook: In every week but one, right-leaning Facebook pages had a higher total number of interactions than left-leaning Facebook pages. Right-leaning pages had 23 percent more total interactions than nonaligned pages and 51 percent more total interactions than left-leaning pages. Images shared by right-leaning pages -- including memes that frequently include false and bigoted messages -- were by far the highest performing content on the Facebook pages examined.

    The data indicates something I’ve long assumed anecdotally: The right is out-organizing the left on Facebook. Even though the right-leaning pages had fewer page likes than the left-leaning pages, the rates of interaction are virtually identical. And when you look at the individual metrics, especially on image-based posts, the news gets even worse. Despite having a larger base of aligned supporters on Facebook in terms of page likes, left-leaning pages don't have as much impact with their base.

    You can view the full study here. 

    It’s time to end the charade. The Trump campaign and politically aligned groups aren't going to stop advertising on Facebook. They need Facebook to reach their voters. Facebook should disband the conservative bias review and stop enabling political theater. Considering how many problems Facebook as a company is facing, it's long overdue for the company to stop wasting its time and resources on a problem that doesn't exist. Political media also need to stop giving this myth oxygen. Next time Parscale or Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) start whining about bias, reporters need to ask for some actual numbers to back up their claims.

  • On Twitter, Trump's campaign manager plays footsie with Gab, “a haven for white nationalists”

    Brad Parscale uses Gab, which is full of white nationalists and neo-Nazis, to push for favorable conditions from Facebook and Twitter

    Blog ››› ››› MELISSA RYAN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Gab, a social media app dubbed “a haven for white nationalists” just wants President Donald Trump to notice it. Recently Gab tweeted at Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign manager, about the myth that Facebook is censoring conservative speech.

    Parscale, who was also the digital director of Trump’s 2016 campaign, has taken a combative stance against mainstream social media companies. He trolls about conservatives being mistreated on social media and has publicly called on Facebook and Twitter not to censor conservative content leading up to the 2020 election, even though social media companies aren’t actually doing this. Parscale’s continued calls for tech companies to address a problem that doesn’t exist are disingenuous given that he (working alongside Cambridge Analytica) exploited Facebook’s ad platform all the way to a Trump victory in 2016 -- even former Clinton campaign staffers have acknowledged that Parscale's ad buys were much more efficient than their own -- and that Trump himself is the world’s most notorious Twitter user. Parscale’s efforts have worked. Just a few weeks ago, Facebook executives met with Parscale and other Republican leaders to hear their “concerns.” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey also recently met with conservatives.

    On Twitter, Parscale gifted Gab with a reply. “I’m not against @getongab,” he wrote, but he said he needs the company to do something for him. Remove white nationalists and neo-Nazis from its platform? Nope. He said he is “all for a @Twitter replacement,” but he’d like Gab to “get me an iPhone app.” Trump’s campaign manager is 100 percent on board with using the social media app that white nationalists favor -- just as long as he can do it from his iPhone!

    Parscale’s interactions with Facebook, Twitter, and Gab are all political theater. Playing footsie with Gab will get the base excited, and as we’ve learned, Trump faces minimal fallout whenever he caters to his white nationalist constituency. The Trump campaign isn’t going to leave mainstream social media platforms anytime soon either. It needs Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to win. The campaign spent millions on digital ads in 2016 and that isn’t going to change. No matter how much Parscale whines about social media companies, the Trump campaign can’t afford to abandon them. It's no surprise Parscale made this complaint on Twitter.

    The tech platforms know this. They also know that the claim of conservative censorship has no basis in reality. But the Trump campaign is still a priority customer. It remains to be seen how much tech companies will cater to the campaign’s demands, and how much that might hurt them with the majority of their other users.

    As I was writing this up, Parscale tweeted another whine about Facebook. He blamed management's inability to control Facebook's supposedly liberal staff but offered no evidence whatsoever to support the claim.