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White House Urges Reporting of ‘Political Bias’ by Social Media

Kurt Wagner and Ben Brody

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is increasing its pressure on social media companies such as Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. over alleged political bias with a White House form for reporting potential censorship of political views.

"Too many Americans have seen their accounts suspended, banned, or fraudulently reported for unclear ‘violations’ of user policies," according to the form, which the White House’s official Twitter account posted on Wednesday. "No matter your views, if you suspect political bias caused such an action to be taken against you, share your story with President Trump."

The White House "wants to hear from all Americans – regardless of their political leanings – if they have been impacted by bias on social media platforms," spokesman Judd Deere said. Deere said the information collected would "100 percent not" be shared with the president’s re-election campaign, but didn’t say if any part of the administration beyond the White House would be evaluating the data collected through the online survey tool.

Facebook and Twitter have existing channels for reporting user posts as offensive or abusive, and both companies also have complicated, detailed policies in place to determine whether to remove reported content.

That hasn’t stopped conservative politicians and media personalities from accusing both companies of bias and censorship. In March, Trump accused Facebook, Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Twitter of favoring content from Democrats and blocking material from some Republicans, repeating complaints he and other politicians have been making for several years. All the companies deny this is the case.

Allegations of bias grew even louder earlier this month when Facebook permanently banned a handful of far-right personalities from its sites, including Alex Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos. In reaction to the bans, Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. lashed out on Twitter against social media companies. Trump tweeted, “I am continuing to monitor the censorship of AMERICAN CITIZENS on social media platforms. This is the United States of America - and we have what’s known as FREEDOM OF SPEECH! We are monitoring and watching, closely!!”

The form unveiled Wednesday asks for information on users -- including their citizenship or residency status, email address and whether they’re over 18 -- then allows them to report on Facebook, its Instagram photo-sharing site, Twitter, YouTube or other sites. It then asks for links to accounts and relevant tweets, as well as what action was taken and screenshots of notifications.

"We enforce the Twitter Rules impartially for all users, regardless of their background or political affiliation," a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement. "We are constantly working to improve our systems and will continue to be transparent in our efforts."

Facebook declined to comment, and a representative of Google’s YouTube video-sharing site didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

It wouldn’t be good business for online platforms to stifle the speech of any significant portion of their customers, said Michael Beckerman, president of the Internet Association, an industry group that represents most of the biggest technology companies including Facebook, Google and Twitter. "The success and growth of internet companies depends upon a broad user base regardless of party affiliation or political perspectives," he said in a statement.

In April, Trump, who is perhaps Twitter’s most influential user, met with the company’s chief executive officer, Jack Dorsey, the same day the president tweeted that Congress should “get involved” in a battle against “discriminatory” practices by the San Francisco-based company.

Trump later tweeted that he had a “great meeting” with Dorsey and that he wants to keep an “open dialogue” with the executive.

Facebook, Twitter and Google also joined the leaders of France and New Zealand on Wednesday in pledging to help curb the internet’s role in spreading hate speech and incitement to violence.

The White House applauded the goal, but declined to endorse the initiative, citing free speech concerns, and said it prefers to encourage "technology companies to enforce their terms of service and community standards that forbid the use of their platforms for terrorist purposes."

(Updates with White House comment in third paragraph; Facebook declining to comment, Internet Association comment starting in seventh paragraph.)

--With assistance from Justin Sink and Gerrit De Vynck.

To contact the reporters on this story: Kurt Wagner in San Francisco at kwagner71@bloomberg.net;Ben Brody in Washington at btenerellabr@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at jward56@bloomberg.net, ;Sara Forden at sforden@bloomberg.net, Andrew Pollack

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