A new report found instances in which Donald Trump’s Truth Social kept posts from being visible.
The posts discussed abortion and the January 6 committee hearings, according to Public Citizen.
The site has billed itself as a beacon of free speech.
Former President Donald Trump’s social media company, Truth Social, has marketed itself as a “free speech haven” that cherishes free expression.
But since its rocky start when it was partially launched in February, its moderators have removed or limited the visibility of users’ posts, often without explanation, according to a new investigation from the nonprofit left-leaning consumer-advocacy organization Public Citizen.
The removed or limited posts included anti-Trump content about the US House investigation of the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol as well as posts supporting abortion rights. It also blocked content that did not have any clear anti-Trump or anti-conservative message, the report says.
The author of the report, Cheyenne Hunt-Majer, told Insider she started experimenting with posts on Truth Social after hearing that people were getting kicked off the platform for expressing progressive or anti-Trump sentiments.
“It became apparent for me within the first 15 minutes that things were being blocked,” said Hunt-Majer, a Big Tech accountability fellow at Public Citizen who studies content moderation across social-media companies.
As part of the experiment, Hunt-Majer wrote “abortion is healthcare” in a post and soon found it was being “shadow banned” — meaning it appeared to publish but she couldn’t find it anywhere on the website. She received no notice that the post was hidden from public view or why.
Hunt-Majer posted a TikTok about the experience — which went viral — and the abortion post appeared five days later. She then approached her employer about writing a formal report about Truth Social, the findings of which were published Tuesday.
Her investigation found that Truth Social “shadow banned” a post she wrote comparing firearms regulations to abortion and birth control. It found the same result for a post she wrote about Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, a Georgia election worker who testified at a House January 6 hearing.
“Shadow banned” content was not limited to Democratic political positions, the Public Citizen report found. For instance, users found a post about Blake Shelton in favor of gun ownership, as well as another post that included a link to an article on the far-right website Breitbart were “shadow banned.”
After users complained they couldn’t post a quote criticizing US support for Ukraine, Hunt-Majer also tried to publish the quote but it wouldn’t show up.
Truth Social did not immediately respond to a list of questions from Insider about how it moderates content. Its website policies call shadow banning a “deceptive and manipulative practice” and promise the company “does not, and never will, shadow ban its users.”
The company’s website also says it has to engage in some moderation to “prevent illegal and other prohibited content” and does so partially through artificial intelligence. Human moderators then review items that have been flagged or deleted, and users can get barred for threatening violence, posting porn, or infringing on intellectual-property rights.
The company acknowledges the process “is not error-proof” and says it identifies and corrects any mistakes in removing posts.
But Hunt-Majer said the policies clashed with the company’s actions.
“They’re taking a public stance on shadow banning and censorship, and then there is a reality of what is going on on the platform, which doesn’t match up,” Hunt-Majer said.
She wasn’t able to get hold of representatives at Truth Social, she said, but hypothesized that not all the shadow banning was nefarious.
“You can tell from using the platform, just trying to get on, you can tell it’s being strung together by a handful of people who are not capable of putting a social-media site together,” she said. “It’s not user-friendly.”
Truth Social launched this year
A few conservative social-media alternatives have emerged since Twitter and Facebook booted Trump from their platforms, saying he incited violence on January 6.
This year Trump has been using Truth Social largely to rant about the House January 6 Committee, to endorse Republicans in the 2022 primaries, and to mock President Joe Biden.
He counts 3.4 million followers — a fraction of the 88.7 million he had when he was on Twitter.
But his comments on Truth Social most likely have a much further reach because journalists and Republicans often share screenshots on Twitter of his comments. Trump, who regularly hints that he’ll run for the White House again in 2024, has said he wouldn’t return to Twitter even if allowed.
Hunt-Majer called content moderation a “difficult animal,” saying social-media companies often expressed a desire to keep an open dialogue on their websites only to soon run into the realities of what that’d mean in practice.
“People don’t want to be on a platform where hate speech is rampant and you’re getting bombarded with explicit images or lots of violence,” she said.
Truth Social has prohibitions such as “offensive or sexual content,” which includes language. It also bans depictions of “violence, threats of violence, or criminal activity” and speech that is “false, inaccurate, or misleading.”
Social-media companies have faced backlash over censorship
Republicans often complain that Twitter blocks or suspends them more frequently than it does Democrats, and they also accuse Twitter’s employees of having bias against conservatives. Twitter employees have overwhelmingly donated to Democrats over Republicans, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan research organization OpenSecrets.
Twitter also censored the New York Post’s reporting on emails from the laptop of Biden’s son Hunter ahead of the 2020 election. Biden’s allies called the emails on the laptop “Russian disinformation,” but The New York Times and Washington Post have since confirmed the emails were authentic.
Democrats, too, have seen at social-media giants, pushing them to be stricter about clamping down on falsehoods, hate speech, and language that incites violence.
Hunt-Majer said she also took issue with how platforms such as Twitter and Facebook moderated content, saying they inconsistently applied their provisions about hate speech and incitement of violence.
Those platforms, however, alert users when their posts are taken down and why and provide an appeals process, Hunt-Majer said. Public Citizen’s position in the report is that content moderation should be transparent and consistent and carry some nuance.
Hunt-Majer’s concern is that Truth Social users will think they’re in an open forum that welcomes diverse perspectives but will instead be in an “echo chamber” that will incite violence.
“It’s a recipe for radicalism and extremism,” she said.
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