Project Veritas was banned from Twitter in February, and founder James O'Keefe was banned on April 15. He lost his 900,000+ follower account soon after posting videos of a CNN producer admitting to propagandistic bias in favor of the Democratic Party. Project Veritas responded to the ban of O'Keefe's account by suing Twitter: “I am suing Twitter for defamation because they said I, James O’Keefe, ‘operated fake accounts.’ This is false, this is defamatory, and they will pay. Section 230 may have protected them before, but it will not protect them from me.” O'Keefe has now released a music video to celebrate, which is available on YouTube or in Times Square.
Twitter has made a practice of mass-banning accounts that it determines are fake follower accounts, spamming accounts, and bot accounts—resulting in sudden and dramatic drops in follower numbers for some high profile users. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey's own account lost 200,000+ followers in one such purge. These accounts are purportedly distinguished from accounts with pseudonyms used by real people for reasons other than inflating follower counts. The more legitimate uses for alternate accounts are allowed, even from the same phone number; Twitter even provides a way for a user to switch between multiple accounts. Valid reasons for multiple accounts include privacy, parents who share a computer with a child, and keeping business accounts separate from personal accounts.
When Twitter's 'Trust and Safety' department suspends or bans its users, the offending tweet is not always specified. Controversially banned accounts from Twitter include; Courtney Love, Milo Yiannopoulos, Roger Stone, Alex Jones, Laura Loomer, and Steve Bannon. As well as Lin Wood, Michael Flynn, Sydney Powell, Jim Watkins, Ron Watkins, and UncoverDC's Editor-in-Chief, Tracy Beanz. Even Dorsey was temporarily banned in 2016, in an incident he says was due to an “internal mistake.” Facebook's list of prominent banned accounts is similar.
Twitter made one controversial and newsworthy ban in 2017 of Rose McGowan, who said she was suspended for 12 hours after Tweeting her claims of Harvey Weinstein's sexual misconduct—Twitter said it was because she tweeted a private phone number. None have been discussed more than when Twitter banned Donald Trump's personal account and the official @POTUS handle while he was the sitting President of the United States, following his January 6 Save America Rally at the Capitol. Twitter then banned 70,000 Qanon-related accounts on January 11 and Mike Lindell on January 25.
Twitter cited "Glorification of Violence" guidelines after Trump had given a speech in which he stated, "peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard today." He had also tweeted, "I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order—respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!" and "Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!" Facebook, Reddit, and Instagram also banned Trump's accounts on their platforms.
Each social media platform has its own policies for banning users, suspending accounts, deleting, editing, and algorithmically manipulating post order, with critics calling for more explanation, transparency, and consistency. Intertwined is the question of where the courts will place liability for damages found to be caused by content posted on the platforms, which is now defined by Section 230, a law that is part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (DCA). Some call for its repeal, such as Mike Cernovich, while some argue that the Big-Tech cooperative monopolizes the market and that government has authority beyond Section 230 to regulate.
“Should Facebook have the power to ban a president? Should Amazon have the power to ban the sale of a controversial book? Should Twitter have the power to permanently bar a user over a single tweet? And if not, what should the government be doing about it? —Bari Weiss
“A person always could choose to avoid the toll bridge or train and instead swim the Charles River or hike the Oregon Trail. But in assessing whether a company exercises substantial market power, what matters is whether the alternatives are comparable. For many of today’s digital platforms, nothing is." —Clarence Thomas
Section 230 provides protection from liability for the "provider or user of an interactive computer service" by prohibiting them from being “treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” They are also shielded from liability for any damages that occur resulting from "any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected." The effect is that no individual is responsible for what any other individual posts, and neither are the platforms—which are additionally protected when they act in "good faith" to ban, suspend, or delete content in an attempt to pre-empt a potential lawsuit.
In 2016 Twitter was sued by a widow who claimed that allowing ISIL to use the platform led to her husband's death in the Amman shooting attack, amounting to material support for a terrorist organization. The lawsuit was dismissed, upholding Section 230. Later that year, Twitter joined Facebook, Google, and Microsoft in a voluntary European Union "code of conduct" pact to review the "majority of valid notifications for removal of illegal hate speech" posted on their services within 24 hours. By August, Twitter said it had banned 360,000 accounts in the preceding year for promoting extremism.
“When speech got digitized, the town square got privatized, and the First Amendment got euthanized. If you can’t speak online...how do you really have a free speech right in this country anymore?” —Venture Capitalist David Sacks
Bans and suspensions are a major driver behind those who seek alternative platforms. Another is security. On July 15, 2020, scam hackers took over Twitter accounts of Joe Biden, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Kanye West, Apple, Binance cryptocurrency exchange, and more to post a deceptive hoax request for Bitcoin. The hack is thought to have been accomplished through internal access provided by a Twitter employee. Screenshots that appear to be of backend tools used by Twitter moderators were obtained in the breach and show buttons labeled "Trends Blacklist" and "Search Blacklist."
Though it had already been known that Twitter monitors content and accounts for "quality" and that their ability to trend can be suppressed if they are deemed to be creating a "bad search experience,” these new screenshots seemed to reveal a manual process more easily abused. The hack prompted Senator Josh Hawley to send a letter to Dorsey requesting he contact the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to answer questions about how the hack affected users' security, including the President's account.
Users also seek alternative platforms when they become wary of censorship, bias, and shadowbanning, which is the practice of limiting the reach of their account silently in the background without their knowledge. Twitter had always said that it does not shadowban, but the screenshots called that claim into question, and another undercover investigation by Project Veritas recorded a software engineer at Twitter admitting that Twitter silences and bans users under pressure from China.
Senior Engineer Zachary Vorhies leaked internal documents in 2019 that evidenced censorship and political bias against conservatives at Google and showed censorship that is not always ostensibly political. The complete list of Voorhies leaks is extensive. In addition to showing that Trump-supporting Steven Crowder, Gateway Pundit, Michelle Malkin, and Red State had been targeted, a leaked "blacklist" showed that search terms such as "Las Vegas Crisis actor," "Cure Cancer," "Maxine Waters," "GOP train crash," "Gun Owners of America," "Anthony Bourdain Death," "Kate Spade Pizzagate," and "Late Term Abortions" were apparently suppressed. Another leaked document was entitled "Fringe ranking/classifier: Defining channel quality" and showed one way that YouTube employees can manually alter search results. In it, sites were shown to be ranked on a "channel quality" index, with Wall Street Journal having an 8.53 rating, while Breitbart News carried 2.78, and Alex Jones -1.56. A series of photos in the leak appear as Google employees plotting against Breitbart news.
A senior research psychologist named Dr. Robert Epstein who studies human behavioral reactions to technology has testified in congress about Google and other Big Tech platforms' intentional manipulation of algorithms to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. As he said on the Glenn Beck TV episode Digital Stormtroopers: How Big Tech Will Silence You & Steal the Election, "The biggest interference threat in the 2020 election is not Russia, it's Silicon Valley." He subsequently monitored and documented the election and claims his research shows at least 6 million votes shifted. Project Veritas again revealed big-tech bias with “Insider Blows Whistle & Exec Reveals Google Plan to Prevent 'Trump situation',” in which undercover video shows a Senior Executive saying Google is "bent on never letting somebody like Donald Trump come to power again."
We've previously reported on Veritas' recent #ExposeCNN series that preceded O'Keefe's ban, in which an executive insider named Charlie Chester said that the network chose stories and slanted them for political purposes. He spoke of the agenda to remove Trump from office, protect Black Lives Matter's race narrative, and boost ratings by intentionally hyping Covid death tolls.
* The author John B Nevin has compiled a list of social media alternatives and summarized their features and terms of service on his personal website. Any opinion there does not necessarily reflect that of the editorial staff at UncoverDC.