Topic: Media Research Center
The Media Research Center just hates it when its narratives are debunked -- in no small part because it can't be bothered to make even a miminal defense of them. Which brings us to a Feb. 1 item by Corinne Weaver complaining that a study blew up one of the MRC's biggest narratives, that conservatives are uniquely being "censored" on social media:
A study released by the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights decided that the argument that conservatives are being censored by Big Tech is “not legitimate.”
“False Accusation: The Unfounded Claim that Social Media Companies Censor Conservatives,” levied the accusation that conservative censorship is a myth. Deputy Director Paul M. Barrett and Law + Research Fellow J. Grant Sims wrote that “the claim of anti-conservative animus is itself a form of disinformation: a falsehood with no reliable evidence to support it.” The study referred to the overall bans of former President Donald Trump on Facebook and Twitter as “reasonable responses to Trump’s repeated violation of platform rules.”
The piece accused Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), conservative commentator Ben Shapiro and Fox News host Tucker Carlson of spreading “The false contention that conservatives are throttled online.” The problem with criticizing online censorship now, according to the study, is that it delegitimizes efforts made by platforms “when they’re actually experimenting with more aggressive forms of fact-checking and content moderation.”
The study relied on NewsGuard’s classification of “manipulators.” It noted, “All of the top five manipulators, in terms of their engagement levels on Facebook, were right-leaning: Fox News, The Daily Wire, Breitbart, The Blaze, and Western Journal.”
Furthermore, Barrett and Sims relied on the leftist Oxford Internet Institute’s report on “junk news.” That report had classified several conservative websites as “junk news,” including Drudge Report, NewsBusters, CNSNews.com, MRCTV, Breitbart, The Daily Caller, The Washington Free Beacon, LifeNews, National Review, the Red State, and The Federalist. These sites were smeared as “unprofessional,” “counterfeit,” “biased” and “emotionally driven.”
Note that all Weaver does here is dismiss the study as "liberal" and relied on a "leftist" group's previous report; she later accused the Stern Center of having "a liberal advisory board." At no point does Weaver even attempt to rebut any claim actually made in the report.
Weaver has previousluy attacked the "leftist" OII -- as we've noted, last October she bashed it for concluding that the MRC's NewsBusters blog (where her posts appear) publishes "junk news" and that the MRC's Curtis Houck offered a biased analysis of a presidential debate. In 2018, Weaver attacked another OII study concluding that "junk news" is disproportionately created by right-wing websites; she offered no rebuttal of that claim either, instead whining that "Liberal media will go a long way to portray conservatives as liars -- all the way to England."
There's a lot in the Stern Center report that's pretty damning of the MRC's victimization narrative, though Weaver will never admit it. It stated that "Even anecdotal evidence of supposed bias tends to crumble under close examination" -- and offered examples. It takes to task Robert Epstein -- a favorite of the MRC for his dubious research claiming that Google manipulates search results for the purpose of "switching" votes from Democrats to Republicans:
The basic question Epstein asks—how might internet searching affect voting—is potentially important. But his extrapolation to hard numbers of purposefully changed votes seems highly questionable. Francesca Tripodi, a social media scholar at the University of North Carolina who has reviewed Epstein’s work, says in an interview that he lacks evidence of either Google’s intent to manipulate elections or that the company has distorted search results toward that end. In a November 2020 article in Slate, she writes that “his hypothesis that Google influenced U.S. elections has never been rigorously tested or reviewed by political or information scientists.”
In fact, there is other research that clashes with Epstein’s findings. A study released in 2019 by researchers at Stanford University concluded that Google’s search algorithm is not biased along political lines and instead emphasizes authoritative sources. In a separate inquiry published the same year, The Economist came to a similar conclusion. The magazine compared news sites’ actual proportion of search results in Google’s News tab with a predictive model of that proportion based on factors Google says its search rankings rely on—namely, a site’s reach, output, and accuracy. “If Google favored liberals, left-wing sites would appear more often than our model predicted, and right-wing ones less,” The Economistsaid. “We saw no such trend.”
Epstein counters that his “work is meticulous. My standards are very high.” He points out that in 2015, he co-authored an article on SEME for the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That piece, however, didn’t make any allegations against Google or point to any actual vote manipulation.
The report also blows up the MRC's key narrative that Twitter exclusively bans conservatives for expressing mainstream conservative views:
Conservatives do get suspended or banned for violating Twitter’s rules against such things as harassment, hateful conduct, or, as in Trump’s case, glorifying violence. But liberals are excluded in this fashion, as well. Pinning down precise proportions is impossible because Twitter doesn’t release sufficient data.
More broadly, Twitter has suspended or banned individuals and groups of highly disparate political persuasions. In 2018, the platform excluded some 80 accounts belonging to activists affiliated with the left-leaning Occupy movement. According to some of these activists, Twitter revoked the accounts without giving a reason. In February 2020, Twitter banned 70 accounts affiliated with Mike Bloomberg’s short-lived campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, reportedly for violating the platform’s policy against platform manipulation and spam.
On the right, Twitter doesn’t target conservatives or Republicans as such, but people who violate its rules by calling for violence, harassing others, or advocating hateful ideologies. Among the right-leaning users who have faced enforcement action are white nationalists like Richard Spencer, Jared Taylor, and David Duke, as well as white nationalist organizations such as the American Nazi Party, the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Worker Party, and American Renaissance magazine.
Weaver could not possibly offer a response to this because "media researchg" isn't what the MRC does -- its job is to push right-wing narratives.
This is what happens when you put a partisan narrative first, as the MRC has done with its anti-social media war: you get swiftly and painfully owned by actual media researchers.