Multiple national news packages from Sinclair Broadcast Group correspondents over the past several months have pushed the right-wing lie that social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter, are biased against and censor conservatives out of political motivation. But numerous studies show this simply isn’t true -- in fact, conservative posts on major news topics frequently outperform others -- and reporting has revealed that Facebook specifically throttled visibility of a progressive outlet while increasing visibility for a conservative one.
These false claims aired by Sinclair are continuing in the lead-up to a Senate hearing this week where the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter, and Google will testify over how their companies try to control the spread of hate speech and misinformation on their platforms. As The Associated Press reported, Trump and Republicans “have kept up a barrage of criticism of Silicon Valley’s social media platforms, which they accuse without evidence of deliberately suppressing conservative views.”
Note that the AP reported that Republicans’ claims of these social media companies suppressing conservative views are “without evidence.” Instead of including such crucial context in their reports, Sinclair’s national correspondents have uncritically repeated these right-wing claims to the massive audience of Sinclair’s network of local TV stations -- with the exception of an October 15 report from Kristine Frazao, who instead gave it the false equivalency of “he said, she said” by airing a quote from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and saying that “Democrats disagree that Big Tech is tipping the scales politically.”
- In a June 30 news package, Sinclair correspondent Ahtra Elnashar pushed Republicans’ claims that social media websites are “censoring political speech.” This news package aired on at least 42 Sinclair-owned or -operated stations in 32 states.
- In a July 28 segment prior to a different Senate hearing with social media company CEOs, which aired on at least 39 Sinclair stations in 31 states, Frazao said, “Republicans [are] expected to repeat claims they’ve already made, that Big Tech has an anti-conservative bias.”
- In a July 29 report after that hearing, Frazao again uncritically repeated Republican claims of “Big Tech [engaging in] blatant bias” and aired a video clip of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) claiming that “Big Tech is out to get conservatives. That’s not a suspicion, that’s not a hunch, that’s a fact.” This news report from Frazao aired on at least 32 stations in 28 states.
- In a September 23 national news package, Elnashar repeated a claim by President Donald Trump that social media sites were “censoring conservative points of view, something tech companies deny.” This segment aired on at least 32 stations in 32 states.
- On October 1, Elnashar aired a video clip of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) calling social media companies “the single greatest threat to free speech in our country today” after she said that “Republicans say social media companies are biased against conservative views.” Elnashar’s segment aired on at least 36 stations in 31 states.
What these Sinclair reporters won’t tell viewers is that conservative claims of suppression by social media companies have always been false, and instances of social media companies enforcing their content rules are not examples of censorship. An October 26 Politico report which cited an analysis of millions of social media posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other platforms “shows that conservatives still rule online” despite Republicans’ claims of censorship:
Right-wing social media influencers, conservative media outlets and other GOP supporters dominate online discussions around two of the election’s hottest issues, the Black Lives Matter movement and voter fraud, according to the review of Facebook posts, Instagram feeds, Twitter messages and conversations on two popular message boards. And their lead isn’t close.
POLITICO worked with researchers at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based nonpartisan think tank that tracks extremism online, to analyze data from the institute’s extensive collection of information scraped from multiple social media platforms.
The findings demonstrate how a small number of conservative users routinely outpace their liberal rivals and traditional news outlets in driving the online conversation — amplifying their impact a little more than a week before Election Day. They contradict the prevailing political rhetoric from some Republican lawmakers that conservative voices are censored online — indicating that instead, right-leaning talking points continue to shape the worldviews of millions of U.S. voters.
Multiple studies of Facebook posts by Media Matters in recent years have debunked claims of anti-conservative bias on the platform, showing that right-wing pages drastically outnumber left-wing pages and that right-leaning pages have similar -- if not higher -- levels of engagement as left-leaning pages. Conservatives’ views also have dominated the discussion of important political and news topics on the platform, including abortion; the 2018 migrant caravan; protests against police brutality; and the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
Columbia Journalism Review and news outlets including Mashable, The Verge, and others have also debunked conservatives’ claims of social media company bias against them. And progressive news site Mother Jones recently reported that Facebook deliberately suppressed Mother Jones’ and other progressive news sites’ reach on that platform with an algorithm change benefiting conservative sites such as The Daily Wire.
It is past time that Sinclair’s reporters stop misleading local news viewers on this topic, especially when they cover Wednesday’s Senate hearing where the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter, and Google will testify -- and likely face questions from conservative lawmakers about supposed censorship once again.