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Christchurch calls, and Trump hangs up

Revue
 
I. Three years ago this month, Mark Zuckerberg gathered together a group of influential conservatives
 
May 15 · Issue #330 · View online
The Interface
I.
Three years ago this month, Mark Zuckerberg gathered together a group of influential conservatives to defend Facebook against allegations of political bias. The company had found itself under pressure after Gizmodo reported that the editors who then worked for Facebook “routinely suppressed conservative news” from its since-abandoned Trending Topics module. It hoped that a roundtable discussion with Glenn Beck, Fox News host Dana Perino, and others would quell the growing panic that Silicon Valley liberals were stifling dissent.
Conservatives need not have worried. Nearly every time the analytics firm NewsWhip reports on the top publishers on Facebook, Fox News ranks near the top. (It fell to No. 2 for the first time this year in March, when the Daily Mail edged it out.) But among many conservatives, including many elected officials, it is now an article of faith that social networks discriminate against them.
The past year has seen multiple congressional hearings devoted to trumped-up allegations of bias against social media bias. Today the president — who recently met with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to complain that the company’s removal of bots had depressed his follower count — issued a new call for allegations. Makena Kelly has the story:
On Wednesday, the White House launched a new tool for people to use if they feel they’ve been wrongly censored, banned, or suspended on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
“Too many Americans have seen their accounts suspended, banned, or fraudulently reported for unclear ‘violations’ of user policies,” the site reads. “No matter your views, if you suspect political bias caused such an action to be taken against you, share your story with President Trump.”
The “tool” launched by the administration is, in fact, a Typeform page, which can be set up in a few minutes by anyone. The White House’s wording is broad enough that it might inspire anyone who has ever had a bad experience on a social network to register a complaint. “SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS should advance FREEDOM OF SPEECH,” the form shouts. Whether platforms might also seek to moderate hate speech or terrorism (for example) isn’t a question that makes it into the form.
This being the Trump White House, this new tool also appears to be a grift. As Kevin Roose put it: “The thing about the Trump Facebook bias survey is it’s just going to be used to assemble a voter file, which Trump will then pay Facebook millions of dollars to target with ads about how biased Facebook is.”
In the meantime, “bias” is defined ever downward. In conservative parlance, it now refers to any instance in which the user of a social platform did not have a desired outcome. You didn’t appear high enough in search results? Your video wasn’t promoted by an algorithm? You were suspended for threatening to kill someone? It’s all just “bias” now.
And for platforms, that presents a devilish trap. With the definition of “bias” constantly expanding, it becomes harder and harder to argue that it doesn’t happen. Social networks often do make mistakes around content moderation, which they have outsourced to an army of underpaid workers who must deal with near-daily changes to community standards. But the larger truth — that conservatives are thriving in part due to their mastery of social platforms like Facebook and YouTube — forever goes unsaid.
II.
Free speech is more than just a Typeform to the White House. It’s also the rationale by which the United States will break with 18 other governments and refuse to sign the Christchurch Call, a set of voluntary commitments by states and online service providers designed to prevent the dissemination of violent and extremist content.
The White House’s view — to the extent that there is such a thing as a White House apart from the whims of the president — is not coherent. Tony Romm and Drew Harwell report:
The White House felt the document could present constitutional concerns, officials there said, potentially conflicting with the First Amendment., even though Trump previously has threatened to regulate social media out of concern that it’s biased against conservatives. […]
Still, in a statement about the Christchurch call, the White House said it stands “with the international community in condemning terrorist and violent extremist content online,” and supports the call’s goals. But the U.S. is “not currently in a position to join the endorsement.”
The call is a non-binding agreement, so signing it would not place any draconian new limits on speech. But it would require the Trump Administration to commit informally to de-radicalizing citizens, supporting academic research into violent extremism, and collaborating with other countries. And it refused.
Other countries are taking much more aggressive action. Australia and Singapore have proposed onerous new laws against social platforms that require them to remove some content immediately, under penalty of massive fines or even jail time for executives. That helps to explain why the platforms all showed up in Paris today to sign the Christchurch Call, agreeing to take new action to prevent the use of live streaming and other platform technologies to promote terrorist ideologies.
Facebook, which is perhaps under the most scrutiny, went a step further. It introduced new restrictions on live streaming that will prevent people who violate its policies from broadcasting for 30 days. Had the rule been in place, the Christchurch shooter would not have been able to broadcast his attack, the company said.
Social networks have an important role to play in reducing the spread of terrorism. But they need help from the countries in which they operate. It’s heartening that 18 governments today committed to working with them on the project — and beyond dispiriting that the United States, for the most craven of reasons, opted out.

Democracy
White House cracks down on Huawei equipment sales with executive order
Disguising Hate: How Radical Evangelicals Spread Anti-Islamic Vitriol on Facebook
San Francisco Bans Facial Recognition Technology
Elsewhere
Facebook isn't secretly listening in on your phone conversations. Really
Facebook pays its interns nearly double what the typical American makes
Girl, 16, kills herself after Instagram poll to decide between life or death
Selena Gomez says social media is 'terrible' for young people
Behind Twitter’s Plan To Get People To Stop Yelling At One Another
It’s Almost Impossible to Tell if Your iPhone Has Been Hacked
Launches
isInputPending: Facebook's first browser API contribution
Takes
Throw Your Laptop Into the Sea, the Surveillance Economy Will Still Win
And finally ...
YTMND Has Shut Down for Good
Talk to me
Send me tips, comments, questions, and your thoughts on tech company collaboration: casey@theverge.com.
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