Facebook Apologizes For Banning Trump's Social Media Director

Mar 20, 2019
Originally published on March 20, 2019 9:05 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Trump's social media director wants to know, why did a social media giant silence him? Facebook temporarily blocked Dan Scavino from making public comments Monday. The administration said it was politically motivated. Facebook says this is more a matter of what Scavino did. We should note that Facebook is among NPR's financial supporters. Here's NPR's Aarti Shahani.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Here's the play-by-play. Scavino was not blocked for making new posts on Facebook, a company spokesperson says. Scavino was blocked from tagging specific people in the comment thread - what's called mentions. He'd been tagging so much, engaging with users, automated bots thought he was a spammer. Facebook software took away his ability to do mentions for an hour or two at most. And the spokesperson says the company apologizes. Scavino posted a screenshot of the pop-up notice he got. His boss, President Trump, tweeted, I will be looking into this #StopTheBias. And so the incident, powered by a bot not a human, has become an example of tech giants' liberal bias - a growing concern among conservatives.

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JOSH HAWLEY: They're pushing a left-wing agenda. We know that, which makes them even more dangerous. We need to do something about it.

SHAHANI: That was Missouri Senator Josh Hawley speaking to The Daily Caller. Republican politicians are raising red flags around what they call anti-conservative bias. According to leading scholars who track online speech and censorship, there isn't data to back it up, though one study from 2018 indicates conservatives are not the only ones with this fear. Across the political spectrum, people who've been silenced by big tech platforms believe the censorship they've experienced is politically motivated. Sarah Roberts, professor at University of California, Los Angeles.

SARAH ROBERTS: They construe that as social media is biased against me, a conservative person, or social media is unfairly taking me down, a, you know, radical socialist or anywhere in between.

SHAHANI: While the president tweets about liberal bias, he's a strong believer in Facebook. According to the political marketing firm Bully Pulpit Interactive, Trump has poured $3.5 million this year into Facebook advertising, more than the entire crowded field of Democratic contenders combined. Aarti Shahani, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.