Feb 1, 2021 - Economy & Business

Study calls conservative claims of tech censorship "a form of disinformation"

Illustration of a hand holding a spear where the tip is made from a cursor arrow.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Researchers at New York University have released a new study that dispels the allegations made repeatedly by conservative lawmakers and members of the conservative media that Big Tech companies intentionally censor their viewpoints.

Why it matters: For years, Republicans have used unproven allegations of censorship as a threat to regulate tech companies or demonize them as enemies of conservatives.

Details: The report shows evidence that conservative politicians and media outlets received just as much, if not more, interaction on social platforms than their liberal counterparts.

  • "Conservatives are drawn to the established platforms for the same reason liberals are: That’s where you can reach the largest audiences and enjoy the benefits of the network effect," the researchers write.
  • "And as much as they condemn supposed social media favoritism, conservatives appear to relish wielding the bias-claim cudgel, even though it’s based on distortions and falsehoods,” they conclude.
  • The report credits financial support from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, which funds journalism and anti-disinformation projects, and also thanks various staffers from Google, Twitter and Facebook.

By the numbers: The report points out how Trump dominated Biden in Facebook engagement from Sept. 3 to Nov. 3 of last year, with Trump having 87% of 307 million total interactions and Biden having only 13%.

  • Trump also had 654 million total Facebook interactions, more than any U.S. elected official, from Jan. 1 to Nov. 3, 2020.
  • Fox News and Breitbart far outperformed other news outlets on Facebook interactions between Jan. 1 and Nov. 3, 2020.
  • Citing numbers from Transparency Tube, the report says the left and the right get roughly the same number of views on YouTube.

Be smart: The mainstream press and tech companies have long tried to assure everyday consumers that these allegations are unsubstantiated, but conservatives have thus far been successful in planting that narrative.

  • A Pew Research Center poll in August 2019 found that most Americans think social media platforms censor political viewpoints.

The big picture: "Silencing" and censorship will be to the modern Republican Party what Big Government was in the '90s — "an all-purpose target designed to inflame feelings of victimhood," Axios' Mike Allen noted last week.

The bottom line: “The claim of anti-conservative animus [on the part of social media companies] is itself a form of disinformation: a falsehood with no reliable evidence to support it," the NYU researchers write.

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