Claims of anti-conservative bias at social media companies 'is itself a form of disinformation': study

Claims of anti-conservative bias at social media companies 'is itself a form of disinformation': study

After decades of claiming that everyone from the Los Angeles Times to Newsweek and Time has a "liberal media bias," the far right has found a new target: social media. Countless Republicans — along with their allies at Fox News, Newsmax TV and AM talk radio — have been claiming that major social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have it in for conservatives. But according to a new study from New York University, there is no evidence that such a bias exists. And in fact, the study found that social media outlets and big tech have allowed conservatives to reach a larger audience.

"(The) claim of anti-conservative animus is itself a form of disinformation: a falsehood with no reliable evidence to support it," according to New York University's report. "No trustworthy large-scale studies have determined that conservative content is being removed for ideological reasons or that searches are being manipulated to favor liberal interests."

In fact, some anti-Trump pundits have attacked social media for failing to adequately police content from President Donald Trump and his allies. Joe Scarborough, the Never Trump conservative and former GOP congressman who hosts "Morning Joe" on MSNBC with liberal pundit Mika Brzezinski, has repeatedly slammed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for letting Trump use Facebook to promote lies and disinformation. According to Scarborough, Zuckerberg has been much too easy on Trump.

In New York University's report, Paul M. Barrett and J. Grant Sims explain, "Conservatives have attacked Twitter's decision, in the wake of the Capitol insurrection, to ban Donald Trump permanently. But Twitter did not act based on ideology. The former president repeatedly violated the platform's rules and contributed to a real danger of further violence. By closely analyzing such episodes, the report clarifies the industry's actual conduct and clears the way for needed reform."

But as reporter Mark Sullivan notes in Fast Company, many Republicans are buying into the claim that social media companies have an anti-conservative bias. In a poll released in August 2020, Pew Research found that 90% of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents believe that it is at least somewhat likely that social media companies shut out right-wing viewpoints they disagree with.

Ironically, many Republicans have used Twitter to claim that social media outlets have it in for conservatives:

Barrett serves as deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, while Sims is a Ropes & Gray Research fellow with the Stern Center. Discussing GOP claims that social media companies and big tech are discriminating against conservatives, Barrett told Fast Company, "Those claims tend to crumble under scrutiny," Barrett tells me. "That's not to say that every single (content) takedown has been correct. The social networks have reversed their own decisions. But when you look at the whole picture altogether, it is difficult for a fair-minded person to say that they are going after conservatives."

Barrett added that social media companies welcome controversial posts from conservatives if they think those posts will drive traffic and increase corporate profits.

"The social media companies have a mercenary outlook," Barrett told Fast Company. "They want to increase user engagement, and they'll use whatever kind of content users are engaging with. If that's with a sensitive piece of political content, or if it's something cultural like kittens and puppies, it's all good."

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