Former Vice President and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is a popular target on social media. But Big Tech companies have responded by deleting mocking posts and suspending critics.
In the months leading up to the Democratic National Convention, more than 260 conservative users on Facebook and Twitter had their posts about Biden scrubbed from the social media platforms. Posting an innocent meme showing light coming from Biden’s eyes meant an immediate suspension on Twitter for anywhere between 12 hours and two months. Facebook users who argued that Biden was “creepy” or posted actual pictures of the former vice president hugging, sniffing, or kissing children have had their posts removed as well.
The Media Research Center’s TechWatch division has been collecting and independently verifying incidents of online censorship since March 2020. Between April 1, 2020 and August 10, 2020, 260 users had posts or accounts censored due to their criticisms of Biden. Roughly half (129) of the incidents were reported and verified on Facebook. A nearly identical number (131 incidents) were reported and verified on Twitter.
“Of course that’s election interference,” said social media researcher and psychologist Dr. Robert Epstein. The former editor of Psychology Today also argued to the Media Research Center that this kind of censorship “could be considered a valuable, undeclared, in-kind contribution to a political campaign, which is unlawful.”
Facebook and Twitter openly deny working with Biden. Yet the platforms appear to cover for him. When Biden’s campaign sent a public letter to Facebook, it accused the platform of enabling the president, saying, “Trump and his allies have used Facebook to spread fear and misleading information about voting.” Facebook responded, stating, “There is an election coming in November and we will protect political speech, even when we strongly disagree with it.”
Actions speak louder than words. Both social media platforms are using their algorithms to muffle negative statements or jokes about Biden. “Big tech’s out to get conservatives,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) to the Media Research Center. “That’s not a suspicion, that’s not a hunch, that’s a fact. It’s time they face the consequences for their actions. Period.”
Donald Trump Jr. made a similar criticism in an exclusive statement to the Media Research Center, “Since my father won the 2016 election, Big Tech has been engaging in a seemingly coordinated campaign to stifle and suppress right of center voices. Though they will of course claim otherwise, the obvious goals of these left-wing tech companies is both to make my father a one-term president and to ensure Democrat control of Congress moving forward … and they’re willing to engage in blatant election interference to make those dreams a reality.”
Trump Jr. continued: “Companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter hold immense power in our Republic, and it’s long past due for elected Republicans to finally take seriously the threats that these near-monopolies pose to our inalienable rights and hold them accountable legislatively for their abuses.”
Facebook: 129 Instances of Censorship
“#Facebook has been removing #Trump campaign ads from its platform,” wrote Epstein in March 2020. “I’m not a Trump supporter, but I’m deeply concerned about #censorship of this sort. Whether u know it or not, #Google-&-the-Gang will decide who our next president will be. #BeAfraid”
After promising to leave political speech from politicians untouched, Facebook broke its promise. A video from President Donald Trump mocking Biden was labeled “partly false” on the platform. The video, which depicted a stammering Biden accidentally endorsing Trump, was suppressed from distribution.
Facebook made the decision to censor the video after receiving vocal pressure from the Biden campaign. “Facebook’s malfeasance when it comes to trafficking in blatantly false information is a national crisis in this respect,” said Biden’s campaign manager Greg Schultz to CNBC.
Other users received far more severe punishment from the platform for their posts. A collage of photos that depict Biden sniffing, hugging, or kissing young girls has been censored on a regular basis. Ironically, Facebook claims that this content “goes against Community Standards on nudity or sexual activity.”
One user who had posted these images noted that “[e]ven Facebook recognized the Joe Biden pictures as sexually explicit activity…I know because they suspended me multiple times over it.” Another user who posted the same collage wrote that they had been suspended from Facebook for 30 days for the post.
PolitiFact, one of Facebook’s third-party fact-checkers, noted that Facebook pages such as “Red White Blue News” were sharing a humorous altered video of Biden’s tongue hanging out of his mouth. These posts were subsequently given an interstitial, or filter, with the label “False,” and suppressed from distribution.
“It’s an example of what the Washington Post Fact Checker calls ‘doctoring,’” PolitiFact asserted. “The Facebook video is inaccurate and ridiculous.”
In 2019, an aggressive letter from the Biden campaign put Facebook “on notice” and demanded that ads from the Trump campaign or the RNC linking Biden to Ukraine be removed. More recently, the DNC publicly slammed Facebook in a memo for “unkept promises” and claimed that the platform had “allowed President Trump to lie about methods of voting in the 2020 election.”
Associate Director and Lecturer of Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at University of Pennsylvania Jonathan Anomaly stated to the Media Research Center, “What the tech companies are doing clearly violates both the social norm of free speech and the legal obligations they were supposed to abide by when Congress classified them as platforms rather than publishers.”
He referred to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gave immunity to online platforms from lawsuits, provided that they stay neutral. But according to Anomaly, “the Tech companies are illicitly taking sides.”
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) said, “Big Tech is out of control, and has more power over information than any entity in the history of mankind. They silence conservatives and only amplify the voices they agree with.”
The senator continued, “They’re not just angry that Donald Trump got elected, they’re angry at themselves for letting him get elected. I believe Big Tech has resolved not to let that happen again, they are going to do everything they can to silence speech that stands in their way. That’s why reports like this one, which provide a window into Big Tech’s systemic and pervasive censorship, are so important. With the presidential election just three months away, the American people deserve to know the truth.”
Twitter: 131 Censored for the Memes and More
Twitter has been far more aggressive about its removal of content it perceives as an attack on Biden. While many memes, nasty tweets, and threats towards Trump stay on the platform, a meme mocking Biden’s mental state is automatically removed. Conservative figures ranging from Post Millennial editor Anna Slatz to conservative activist Mindy Robinson have been suspended from Twitter for posting a particular meme.
The meme was framed in the style of a Biden campaign ad, with the slogan, “His brain? No. His heart.” Twitter’s algorithm continues to instantly suspend anyone who posts the meme. While the suspensions were only meant to be 12-hour suspensions, it took up to two months for some users to get their accounts back. Twitter labeled the meme as violating its policies because the meme was “misleading information about voting.”
The 12-hour suspension typically came with a demand for the user to delete the offending tweet. However, Twitter often deleted the tweet for the user, without their knowledge or permission. One user who posted the meme as his profile picture had his account restricted for “suspicious activity.”
Twitter also covered up a tweet as sensitive or graphic content, because it tagged Biden and used a GIF to call him “pathetic.” Another humorous tweet with no images stated: “I’m #JoeBiden and I’ve forgot this message.’ #JoeBiden2020.” The user was locked out for posting “misleading information about voting.”
Much like Facebook, Twitter also removed statements about the alleged sexual harassment scandals that Biden may have been involved in. One user was suspended for a week for calling the former Vice President “Groping Joe.” Another was removed for tweeting a GIF of Biden kissing a young girl, with the caption “Kisses from Biden.”
Tweets that discussed Biden’s mental state were also punished. One user was suspended for a tweet that asked if the former vice president had Alzheimer’s Disease. Still another user posted lyrics from The Wizard of Oz with the hashtags #NeverBiden and #BidensCognitiveDecline.
Typically, in an open forum, both sides get to say as much as they want to say. But that often isn’t the case on social media when it comes to Biden versus Trump. While celebrities post images of themselves holding bleeding heads made to look like Trump, question Trump’s mental state, and threaten his young son, Barron, ordinary voters can’t criticize Biden without threat of censorship.
“Throughout our nation’s history, we have always elevated and protected the right of an individual’s voice to be heard, whether it’s in the legal system or in an open forum,” said RNC Committeewoman Harmeet Dhillon to the Media Research Center.
She continued, “Social media companies once acted as a means to elevate the voices of the individual — particularly those without the power, wealth, or social reach to be easily heard otherwise — but now these very entities, having grown to vast international behemoths with the assistance of government protectionism, seek to suppress those voices, particularly when it comes to elections and matters of public policy.”
Methodology: The Media Research Center has been analyzing complaints of censorship from the major social media platforms. While the complaints have been extensive, they are by no means all of the incidents of censorship on this topic.