The MRC vs. Twitter, Part 1
The Media Research Center repeatedly claimed that President Trump was being "censored" on Twitter (in fact, his lies were merely labeled as such), and it falsely portrayed political donations by Twitter employees as coming from the company.
By Terry Krepel
The Media Research Center has long been running a dubious victimization narrative against Facebook, pushing the factually dubious narrative that Facebook has solely targeted conservatives for merely being conservatives. It's been running that playbook against Twitter too -- which ramped up just before the 2020 presidential election.
The MRC's Corinne Weaver and Alec Schemmel ranted in an Oct. 19 post:
Big Tech has caused serious damage to President Donald Trump’s ability to be heard on social media.
An alternative -- and, one can say, more reality-based -- reading of those statistics that Weaver and Schemmel won't acknowledge: Trump broke the rules at Facebook and Twitter 65 times, and Biden didn't break them at all. As Media Matters' Parker Malloy aptly pointed out, enforcement of the rules is not "censorship" or "bias," and the fact that Trump is continued to be allowed to use Facebook and Twitter despite these multiple violations of the rules is actually a pro-Trump bias on their part; for instance, when someone makes a claim that a video Trump tweeted uses music and images that are copyrighted and the copyright holder objects, Twitter has a legal obligation to remove them. (We've previously noted how the MRC -- ostensibly conservatives who value private property rights -- loves it when those rights are violated for pro-Trump purposes.) Indeed, the examples Weaver and Schemmel cited are not "censorship" but, in fact, instances of Trump breaking the platforms' rules.
The core of the MRC's argument here, Malloy added, is that it believes social media rules shouldn't apply to themselves and Trump. Sounds about right.
Perhaps because portraying Facebook as uniquely biased against conservatives is utterly divorced from reality, the MRC decided to focus solely on Twitter (despite accompanying graphics still blaming plural "tech companies"). Weaver complained on Nov. 9:
Through its rampant censorship, Twitter has done its best to silence President Donald Trump. However, neither former Vice President Joe Biden nor his campaign have received any labels or filters of any kind.
Weaver followed up the next week:
Twitter has gone off the rails when it comes to censoring President Donald Trump and his campaign account. But meanwhile, Joe Biden and his campaign accounts remain untouched.
In neither post did Weaver cite a Biden tweet that should have been "censored," nor did she coherently explain why any of the Trump tweets should not have been. She did sort of try on that last part though, asserting that in one "censored" clip, "Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo discussed with Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) the concept of 'dead people voting.' Twitter labeled this video with 'This claim about election fraud is disputed.' Yet, according to 2012 research done by the Pew Center on the States, 1.8 million deceased people were registered as voters. This topic has been discussed broadly by both sides in the past 10 years."
But dead people on the voting rolls is not the same as "dead people voting." Weaver did not note whether Bartiromo or Graham offered any verifiable of evidence of "dead people voting," let alone that it has been an significant issue in the presidential campaign.
That's the kind of baseless, factually unsupported ranting Weaver doesn't think should be disciplined by Twitter.
After the election, Kayla Sargent similarly complained that Twitter "censored tweets from at least six conservatives’ verified accounts, including President Donald Trump. In five of the six instances, the platform placed an interstitial, or filter, over the tweets, and in five of the six cases, it turned off comments and likes. Twitter still allowed quote tweets for the posts, however." But if you can still easily see the tweets simply by turning off a filter, it's not "censorship," is it? Sargent didn't explain why it is.
Updating these bogus numbers became a weekly duty at the MRC. Corinne Weaver complained in a Nov. 23 post that "Twitter has labeled Trump’s tweets 52 times since Nov. 16. Team Trump’s tweets have been labeled 16 times as well in the past week. Overall, Trump and his campaign have been censored 262 times since May 31, 2018. Meanwhile, Biden and his campaign have received no such censorship." Weaver updated the numbers on Nov. 30: "Overall, since May 31, 2018, Trump and his campaign have been censored by Twitter 325 times. By comparison, neither former Vice President Joe Biden nor his campaign have been censored on the platform."
As before, in neither post did Weaver identify any Biden post that violated Twitter's terms of service the way Trump's false claims about election fraud do. Further, those Trump posts aren't even actually "censored": they are labeled and "de-amplified," but anyone can still read them.
Misleading about political donations
A few days before the Weaver-Schemmel post, the MRC's Joseph Vazquez helped further this narrative under the false headline "Facebook and Twitter Contribute Over 90% to Dems." In fact, once you get past Vazquez's ridiculously hyperbolic assertion that Facebook and Twitter "snapped into the full-on Orwellian Ministry of Truth," the vast majority of those donations came from employees of Facebook and Twitter -- who have free will in donating to who they please, and whose donations are not necessarily reflective of any purported "bias" on the platforms, however fervently the MRC wants that to be true -- not the company itself.
Weaver and Schemmel referenced Vazquez's post but couldn't get their facts totally straight either: "In addition, Twitter and Facebook employees have funneled money into Democrat campaigns. In a previous study released by MRC Business, the numbers showed that Facebook and Twitter had given over 90 percent of their political contributions to Democrats in 2020." Like Vazquez, the two didn't prove that such donations by employees equated to "bias" or "censorship" of conservatives.
Vazquez continued to mislead about this. Under the headline "Shhh: Twitter Donations to Dems Now Exceed 99 Percent," Vazquez began a Nov. 5 post by hyperventilating, "The harbingers about Twitter’s Orwellian censorship of President Donald Trump and conservatives during the election have already come true. Donation records may help explain the reason."
That sounds like corporate donations, right? But it's not, as Vazquez quickly concedes:
A recent study found that Facebook employees/PACs and Twitter employees contributed over 90% of their contributions of $200 or more to Democrats. Twitter employees, in particular, have since increased their donation disparity in favor of Democrats to almost 100 percent.
Despite failing to establish any direct connection between Twitter employees' individual and private political donations and Twitter corporate policies,Vazquez continued to whine:
It appears that the platform will do anything to help Democrats attain victory. A recent MRC study found that Twitter had censored the president (including his campaign accounts) 64 times since he was elected, while Biden (including his campaign accounts) wasn’t censored at all.
Again: Twitter enforcing its terms of service on those who violate them is not "censorship," and the MRC offered no evidence backing up its suggestion that Biden violated those terms to the extent that Trump has. Further, the MRC admitted in most instances all that happened was that a filter was placed over the offending tweet and comments were turned off -- which is not "censorship" by any normal definition of the word.
The victimization narrative continues
The fact that Twitter's actions against Trump's misinformation-laden posts isn't actual censorship, however, did not keep the MRC from falsely calling it that. Take, for instance, this Nov. 16 post by Alexander Hall:
Twitter has continued its censorious campaign against sitting President Donald Trump.
Again: Flagging isn't "censorship." Neither Hall nor Weaver has explained why it's using that false terminology.
Nevertheless, Hall did it again, ranting in a Nov. 19 post that "Twitter censored multiple conservative commentators shortly after they were retweeted by President Donald Trump." Actually, according to the article from the right-wing site Reclaim the Net that Hall sourced for his item, the accounts in question were suspended for, yes, violating Twitter's terms of service. Typically that means simply deleting the offending posts to restore service.
On Nov. 20, Heather Moon complained that "Dan Bongino, conservative commentator and a partner in Twitter alternative Parler, was censored by Twitter." As usual, Bongino wasn't "censored"; Twitter flagged the post for promoting bogus information. Sadly, Moon was utterly incurious about why an investor in a "Twitter alternative" still has an account on Twitter. (And she failed to disclose that another Parler investor is Rebekah Mercer, who is a major funder of, and board member at, the MRC.)
A Nov. 13 post by Kayla Sargent brought more anti-Twitter (and bogus "censorship") drama:
It’s no secret that Twitter takes its self-proclaimed role as the arbiter of truth seriously, but a recent report released by the company shows just how far it’s willing to go to censor its opponents.
Sargent is lying when she claims Twitter is "censor[ing] its opponents," and she provides no evidence whatsoever that anything was done outside its Civic Integrity Policy. She's also forced to concede that "a few on the left were censored as well" -- undermining the MRC's entire victim narrative that conservatives are solely targeted by social media -- but bizarrely listing former Trump White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci as being on "the left." No, Kayla, criticizing Trump does not automatically place you on "the left."
Meanwhile, noted MRC apparatchik Dan Gainor had a piece published at Fox News ranting that "Trump has been the enemy of leftist Twitter for his entire presidency, despite having nearly 89 million followers on the site. While the site refused to shut him down, it has censored him and his campaign nearly 200 times. Most of those have come this month" and claiming the site as "censored" Trump. As with the others, he didn't bother to explain why Trump's repeated violations of Twitter's terms of service were "censorship."
Hall played the victimization card again in a Dec. 2 post:
Twitter Safety is rolling out new dystopian policies to regulate the speech of its users.
Hall named only two "far-left" groups. the first was the "infamous" Anti-Defamation League, in part because it has "smeared online conservatives as being 'anti-Semitic' for their criticism of liberal billionaire George Soros." The MRC has previously insisted that it's not anti-Semitic to hate liberal Jews like Soros. The other group was LGBT-rights group GLAAD, which "unfortunately has a significant track record of making massive companies from Hallmark to Chick-fil-A bend the knee to their ideology." The MRC felt sadness when both Hallmark and Chick-fil-A stopped hating gay people as much as the MRC does.
Labels are censorship?
Weaver actually got the terminology right in a Dec. 7 post complaining that "Twitter’s war with President Donald Trump and the Trump campaign has claimed at least 100 more casualties in the form of labeled tweets." That's right -- they were labeled, not "censored." But Weaver returned to the MRC-preferred (and misleading) narrative in the very next paragraph by making liberal use of the C-word: "Trump and his campaign have been censored by Twitter at least 436 times. Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden and his campaign have been censored 0 times." Then she tried to spin things saying that "label" and "censor" are exactly the same thing: "Labels indicate censorship because even Twitter has admitted that the company 'de-amplified' labeled tweets." Weaver did not explain why anyone has the unfettered right to demand that Twitter fully "amplilfy" their tweets.
Weaver then complained that Twitter expanding its terms of service to cover hateful conduct means more "censorship": "Expect even more censorship to come, if the new update to Twitter’s 'hateful conduct' policy is enforced. 'Today, we’re expanding our hateful conduct policy to address language that dehumanizes people on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin,' the official Twitter Safety account declared in a Dec. 2 thread." Again, Weaver did not explain why a private company must give hateful people an undisputed platform.
Weaver went on to complain that Twitter flagged posts for missing context and once again tried to redefine words: "But don’t be fooled by the mild-mannered term 'context,' which Twitter likes to use as the reason for the labels. Labels indicate censorship. Even the platform has admitted that the company 'de-amplified' labeled tweets."
Heather Moon took over the honors in a Dec. 21 post, where she mournfully declared that the Trump "censored, suppressed, and limited" count had reached 543 and similarly referred to Biden only as "former Vice President," not "president-elect" (and didn't explain that the reason Biden hasn't been "censored" is because he hasn't violated Twitter's terms of service, unlike Trump). She did, however, ramp up the doublespeak: "While the use of a warning label may seem innocuous, labels are a form of censorship. Twitter itself has admitted that it 'de-amplified' labeled tweets." Moon further complained:
Peter Navarro, director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy and a presidential advisor, released a 36-page report alleging election fraud that was “more than sufficient” to flip the election. Twitter labeled a tweet to a story about Navarro’s report and a video clip of a Fox News segment in which Navarro discussed his conclusions. The platform labeled both tweets with a statement that said, “This claim about election fraud is disputed.”
Moon censored the fact that Navarro's report is filled with false and unproven claims, and the voting machine "forensic audit" report, according to Dominion, made accusations about vote-changing that are "techologically impossible," while Michigan state officials said the audit is "critically flawed, filled with dramatic conclusions without any evidence to support them."
Moon returned for the Dec. 28 body count, which had increased to 583. Again, she referred to Biden only as "former Vice President," not "president-elect," and wouldn't admit that Biden had not violated Twitter's terms of service, unlike Trump. She also served up complaints of the types of content being flagged, such as: "A clip discussing a video purporting to show a poll worker in Georgia scanning a stack of ballots multiple times was labeled as having disputed claims about election fraud." Moon censored the fact that the video did not, in fact, show this.
Moon also repeated her doublespeak that "While the use of a warning label may seem innocuous, labels are a form of censorship. Twitter itself has admitted that it 'de-amplified' labeled tweets."
The final MRC article pushing that narrative was Jan. 4, when Corinne Weaver grumbled: "Twitter never took a holiday break when it came to labeling President Donald Trump’s tweets and the tweets of his campaign, @TeamTrump. In the past seven days, 42 labels have been slapped on tweets referencing elections, Georgia and any mention of fraud. Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden’s account and his campaign’s account have been left untouched by Twitter. President Trump and his campaign have been censored a grand total of 625 times since May 31, 2018."
That narrative stopped, of course, because Twitter banned Trump in the aftermath of the Trump-instigated Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Which, of course, created a whole new victimization narrative.
(Part 2 of this article is here.)
SIDEBAR: A Twitter action the MRC loved
For all of its failing victimization narratives regarding "Big Tech," the MRC actually found something to like about them -- but that's because it impacted President-elect Joe Biden. Kayla Sargent seemed pretty pleased in a Dec. 22 post:
Former Vice President Joe Biden will reportedly have a long way to go to build up his Twitter presence, assuming, as currently projected, he takes over as president in January.
None of the usual histrionics ranting ranting about "censorship" here. Just an clear undercurrent of happiness that Biden was being inconvenienced.
The next day, Dan Gainor was even more pleased by the situation:
The left is never happy. Likely president Joe Biden’s team is angry at Twitter because the site won’t transfer all of President Donald Trump’s official followers to Biden.
Again, flagging Trump for spreading false information is not "censorship," as there's no inherent constitutional right to spread lies, and Gainor doesn't explain why private companies have no right to enforce their terms of service against someone who has repeatedly violated them.
Also: Note how neither Sargent nor Gainor were willing to unambiguously concede that Biden won the election; Sargent equivocated by saying it's based on "assuming, as currently projected, he takes over as president in January," while Gainor called him the "likely president."