Twitter consulted with a right-wing operative with links to extremism
Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.
In efforts to appease fits of manufactured conservative rage over the moderation of hateful content on social media platforms, Facebook and Twitter have relied on the advice of anti-LGBTQ extremists and far-right grifters “to help them figure out who should be banned and what’s considered unacceptable.”
As reported by The Wall Street Journal, Facebook sought out the advice of right-wing groups including extremists like the virulently anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council (FRC) and its president, Tony Perkins. Perkins has compared same-sex marriage to incest, blamed marriage equality and abortion for a destructive hurricane, and called pedophilia a “homosexual problem.” He is clearly not equipped to be an arbitrator on content that oppresses, harassed, and erases minorities. Perkins, along with FRC, has actively opposed LGBTQ equality around the world, supporting a law in Uganda that could have punished “repeat offenders” of same-sex sexual activity with the death penalty, and collaborating with a hate group that worked to pass Russia’s “gay propaganda” law. Domestically, Perkins also called for the State Department to stop supporting LGBTQ rights after President Donald Trump was elected.
Moreover, FRC senior fellow Ken Blackwell has used his Facebook page to regularly push out links from right-wing propaganda sites that have a history of promoting anti-Muslim fake news and conspiracy theories. Blackwell also took part in what was seemingly a promotional campaign with Liftable Media, which owns right-wing propaganda sites like The Western Journal and relies on right-wing media figures to draw online traffic to its pages. And he has shared misleading memes and content from Russia’s Internet Research Agency, the company behind the 2016 presidential election interference on Facebook. Blackwell is also on the board of the NRA, and once blamed the mass shooting at UCSB by a men's rights supporter on marriage equality.
The Journal’s article also reports that the Heritage Foundation, which has a long history of climate denial and gets funding from fossil fuel companies, has recently “forged a relationship with Facebook.” On Facebook, Heritage Foundation’s media arm, The Daily Signal, has put out anti-science garbage like “Why climate change is fake news,” contributing to Facebook’s climate-denial problem. In 2013, Heritage came under fire for hiring a researcher who wrote that Hispanic immigrants may never "reach IQ parity with whites." (The researcher later resigned following outrage.)
Twitter has also sought the advice of right-wing grifters and anti-abortion advocates. According to the Journal, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has been in contact with Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist, and Norquist has used that access to successfully lobby for conservatives who had trouble getting anti-abortion ads on Twitter. Anti-abortion groups have a habit of claiming censorship in order to bully social media platforms into allowing them to run “inflammatory” content.
Dorsey also privately sought the advice of Ali Akbar, a right-wing personality with a prominent Twitter presence, when dealing with the question of whether to remove conspiracy theorist Alex Jones from the platform. (After a murky process filled with half-measures to address Jones’ many policy violations, Twitter and its streaming service Periscope finally removed Jones.) Akbar’s history of promoting hateful content on Twitter and Periscope makes him a poor choice for a consultant on hateful content. He once hosted Matt Colligan (“Millennial Matt”) -- a participant in the 2017 “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA -- for a Periscope video in which Colligan waved a flag that had a Nazi swastika. Akbar, who has claimed his talks with Dorsey have been going on for months, was recently briefly suspended from Twitter, seemingly after a tweet in which he accused media of egging on a “civil war in America” and urged his followers to buy guns and ammo. His account was reinstated within a couple of days.
These examples show tech platforms’ tendency of caving to conservative whims in order to appease manufactured rage over baseless claims of censorship and bias. Evidence shows that right-wing pages drastically outnumber left-wing pages on Facebook, and under Facebook’s algorithm changes, conservative meme pages outperform all other political news pages. Across platforms, right-wing sources dominate topics like immigration coverage, showing the cries of censorship are nothing more than a tactic. And judging by tech companies’ willingness to cater to these tantrums, the tactic appears to be working.