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After refusing to sign the Christchurch Call to fight online extremism, Trump admin launches tool to defend “free speech” on social media platforms

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The Trump administration on Wednesday launched a new tool where US citizens can complain about social media bias. Indirectly this is a platform for conservatives to “share their story”. The White House launched the tool just hours after it broke with more than a dozen world leaders and top technology companies in an international call to action around the rise of online extremism on social platforms.

Over the past few months, Republicans have taken aim at social media networks, citing claims that conservatives have been wrongly censored on these platforms. In a recent poll, 83 percent of Republicans thought the tech companies were biased against conservatives.Committees like House of Energy and Commerce and Senate Judiciary, have even held hearings on the issue where lawmakers questioned officials from companies like Facebook and Twitter over the alleged bias.

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The outrage started last year in April when the House Judiciary Committee invited pro-Trump online personalities Diamond and Silk to discuss being “censored” on social media. And again this year Facebook in the wake of realworld hate crimes and violent terror attacks, banned six extremist account and a conspiracy theory organization. Additionally last month it was reported that President Trump met with Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey. Twitter representatives said that the meeting was supposed to discuss the health of the platform, but it was later reported that Trump spent a significant portion of their 30-minute discussion complaining that he was losing followers on Twitter.

Other members of the Trump family, like Don Jr., also voiced concern of the deplatforming of right-wing activists. After Facebook announced that it would banning conspiracy theorist Alex Jones along with other extremists accounts, Trump’s eldest son tweeted, “The purposeful & calculated silencing of conservatives on Facebook & the rest of the Big Tech monopoly men should terrify everyone,”

When Vice reported about an all-hands meeting held on March 22 in Twitter, it stated that an employee asked a question, “Twitter has largely eradicated Islamic State propaganda off its platform. Why can’t it do the same for white supremacist content?” To which another Twitter executive who works on machine learning and artificial intelligence responded that such algorithms can be implemented but it would remove content from some of the Republican politicians when algorithms aggressively remove white supremacist material.

The White House says the tool which is hosted on Typeform is meant to help people share stories about ways they were unfairly targeted by social platforms for free speech. But the online form where users can submit requests also appears to be an email collection mechanism.

The form begins by asking users to submit basic information about themselves, like their first and last names. It then asks users if they are US citizens or permanent resident.

  • If a user clicks “yes,” the form continues. If a user clicks “no,” a screen pops up saying: “Unfortunately, we can’t gather your response through this form. Please feel free to contact us at WhiteHouse.gov/contact.” This means immigrants will not be able to submit their views. There is also the risk of the US government gathering such information for the purpose of deportation from the country.
  • If users clicked Yes, the tool will ask them to click which platform they’ve experienced bias on: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube or Other. It asks users to link to the suspected post and post a screenshot from the platform, if applicable, of the rule violation notification.

Critics were quick to point out that the online form was not very sophisticated and could be easily gamed by anyone.

  • For example, the “captcha” response test used at the end of the survey to determine if the respondent is a bot asks users to type the year the Declaration of Independence was signed.
  • “I tried it with ‘1945,’ it cleared it. You just need to type four numbers,” tweeted Quentin Hardy, head of editorial at Google Cloud.

The form also asks you if you would want to be added to their mailing list. “We want to keep you posted on President Trump’s fight for free speech,” the form states after a few questions. “Can we add you to our email newsletters so we can update you without relying on platforms like Facebook and Twitter?” The move is yet another example of ways the administration has chosen to gather personal information of US citizens, promoting hate and bigotry under the veil of “free speech”, and unfairly excluding migrant voices from political discourse.

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Being a Senior Content Marketing Editor at Packt Publishing, I handle vast array of content in the tech space ranging from Data science, Web development, Programming, Cloud & Networking, IoT, Security and Game development. With prior experience and understanding of Marketing I aspire to grow leaps and bounds in the Content & Digital Marketing field. On the personal front I am an ambivert and love to read inspiring articles and books on life and in general.