Big Tech’s Social-Media Clampdown on Conservative Perspectives Intensifies
Increasingly, major online platforms are targeting anyone attempting to post information that does not fit mainstream narratives about COVID-19, gender and other issues.
Lila Rose is no stranger to the tactics social-media giants Facebook and Twitter employed in banning former President Donald Trump from their platforms.
As head of the pro-life group Live Action, Rose has seen the organization she founded permanently banned from Pinterest, barred from advertising on Twitter and its entire TikTok account temporarily removed for unnamed “community violations.”
Despite these and other brushes with various social-media platforms, Rose has decided to stay and fight rather than decamp to alternative, more friendly venues or set up her own, as the former president has done.
“I’m not saying No to other platforms, but if you’re going to be spending time on social media and help reach people with the truth, then go to the place where you can reach people,” Rose said in a Register interview.
Rose, who addresses ways to use social media to affect people’s minds and hearts in her new book, Fighting for Life: Becoming a Force for Change in a Wounded World, told the Register, “A lot of it is leaving your comfort zone and going to places that are hostile. That’s how you make the change needed in the world.”
In remaining engaged on social media, where she and Live Action have a combined total of 5 million followers, Rose said she sticks to her message and tries to follow each platform’s guidelines. When an issue arises, she attempts to determine whether it was the result of a misunderstanding or mistake before pursuing a challenge.
“If you don’t have a clear case, saying you do when you don’t is not helpful,” she said. “I would caution people that just because your post is not getting a lot of shares or likes or you lost followers doesn’t mean it’s a nefarious scheme to destroy you. It’s important to have a lot of common sense and be thoughtful and discerning about whether this is truly the case.”
NARAL Targets LifeSite
Still, for Catholics and others with conservative views, examples of Big Tech’s heavy hand abound, providing plenty of reasons to be concerned about access to social media. Increasingly, these platforms are targeting anyone attempting to post information that does not fit the mainstream narrative about COVID-19, gender and other issues.
In the wake of the recent banning of LifeSiteNews from Facebook, for example, Ilyse Hogue, president of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), said her group would “take the win” for the removal.
Hogue said NARAL worked with other groups to document “COVID disinformation” by LifeSiteNews, which was declared to be in violation of Facebook’s policies on the coronavirus and vaccines. She added that LifeSiteNews also has posted “white supremacist content, anti-LGBTQ content and a boatload of abortion disinformation.”
Additionally, Catholic podcast host Patrick Coffin recently was removed from YouTube after posting an announcement of his “Truth Over Fear” online summit on COVID-19. The event itself was interrupted and had to be rescheduled after the virtual conference company Kartra pulled the plug in the middle of the first day without explanation.
On May 14, President Joe Biden quietly signaled his support for Big Tech’s restrictive actions via an executive order that repealed Trump’s May 2020 “Preventing Online Censorship” executive order. Trump’s executive order asserted that “online platforms are engaging in selective censorship that is harming our national discourse” and mandated that federal agencies undertake a number of measures to combat such censorship.
Toledo Diocese’s Video Banned
Indeed, many other Catholics who have ventured into social media believing they had a right to free speech have discovered that their views are being silenced, ostensibly for having violated a platform’s “community standards.”
In the weeks leading up to the 2020 presidential election, a video on socialism, part of a series on Catholic social teaching by Peter Range, director of the Office for Life and Justice for the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio, was removed from YouTube for violating the platform’s spam, deceptive practices and scam policies.
Nick De La Torre, president of AWAKEN Catholic, which had uploaded the video to its YouTube channel, challenged the removal in an email to YouTube, explaining that the video did not merely identify problems with socialism, but with unvirtuous capitalism, as well. Without responding, YouTube eventually republished the video.
Nonetheless, De La Torre’s concerns about what is happening to Catholics and conservatives on social media led him several months ago to create and launch an alternative app.
“On Facebook, we have 1,100 to 1,200 followers and likes, but we might post something and less than 10% of our followers are seeing it,” De La Torre told the Register. “We decided we don’t need Facebook determining that.”
The AWAKEN Catholic app allows users to interact with each other through groups or private messages, he said. “It functions like the typical social-media platform, with the addition of shows in video and audio, a prayer library and original Catholic music.” Even better, De La Torre added, it is reaching people who might not otherwise be reached in a traditional church or social-media setting.
“I just want people to hear the good news of the Gospel and the Church and not allow these impediments of what the culture is doing to be a reason we give up and not come up with other creative solutions,” he said.
De La Torre said he believes Catholics need to reclaim their status as pioneers of the culture by being inventive and creating not just alternatives, but something better than what is already available.
Brian Burch of Catholic Vote concurred. “This is the United States, built on a culture of creativity, ingenuity, innovation. We will find a way. There’s a reason why we’re the home of Big Tech, where people innovated to create these platforms to begin with, and that same spirit will animate a new wave of innovation and tools that will allow people to communicate in a way these companies have postured until recently.”
Anticipating the kinds of problems that are occurring with YouTube and other social media, some Catholic and conservative media outlets are seeking alternatives.
For example, LifeSite News, which is not Catholic but publishes a separate Catholic edition on its website, has encouraged followers to subscribe to its email notifications and is using the alternative social-media platforms Telegram, Gab, MeWe, Rumble and Brighteon.
Burch added that Catholics should make sure they have email relationships with the groups and news platforms they want to follow.
“Don’t rely simply on social media as your tether to those sources of news and information you believe are valuable,” he said.
Going forward, Burch said, Catholic Vote also anticipates being more active through community organizing on the ground.
He said, “There will probably be a resurgence of person-to-person activism, which in many ways is more effective than digital advertising that has become so polarizing.”
Jesuit priest Father Robert McTeigue, host of the Catholic Current podcast and radio program, said it may indeed be time for Catholics to start generating their own platforms, but he also believes they must fight back when unjustly silenced.
“We need to let the bullies know that Christians aren’t pushovers, and I think we can do that through legal and peaceful means,” he said.
Bill Donohue of the Catholic League agreed. When Catholic World Report’s Twitter account was frozen over a tweet that referred to Biden’s nominee Dr. Rachel Levine as a biological man identifying as a transgender woman, the Catholic League mobilized its base, and within three hours the account was unlocked.
Donohue told the Register that the Catholic League is able to activate thousands of Catholics through its email list and provide them with the necessary contact information.
“We always hit hard and not below the belt, and we make sure we have the right target,” Donohue said. “Unless we push back, these elites are not going to stop. We have to stay in the fight. You either fight or you quit.”
Father McTeigue said he is of two minds when it comes to Catholics staying engaged on social media: “We don’t want to be turning tail, but on the other hand, when we do stay on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, we help make money for people who hate us. I would like to see Catholic content providers have somewhere to go.”
Added Catholic Vote’s Burch, “We believe these social-media companies are weaponizing their platforms against anyone and any idea that doesn’t comport with the new progressive revolution underway. Catholics have to understand that these corporations are not neutral. They don’t share our worldview, and they are actively working against many of the ideas and tenets of our faith.”
He told the Register that although social-media platforms enjoy liability protection as publishers because they claim to be neutral entities that distribute information, they are increasingly demonstrating that they are not neutral.
“You can’t have it both ways — posture as neutral and regularly censor content without being held liable,” he said.
Burch said Catholics should be working at all levels to demand more government scrutiny of these platforms that have become monopolistic and are censoring constitutionally protected political speech.
As people become increasingly frustrated with social-media censorship, Burch predicted there will be a breaking point at which large numbers begin to leave, quickly making many existing platforms irrelevant.
“One thing is clear,” he said, “the ideology of the left requires censorship and coercion, and the experience of Big Tech has really exposed the incoherence and weakness of progressivism itself.”
Engaging the Culture
It is in just this environment, the Toledo Diocese’s Range said, that Catholics are called to engage the culture.
“We have the answers to the questions the world is seeking right now,” he said. “We have Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Pope Francis has said shepherds should smell like their sheep, and many sheep are on these platforms. … You have to go where people are having conversations, and, despite censorship, conversations are still taking place.”
Added Range, “It is important to bring the great gifts the Church has to offer into the marketplace of ideas, and that is still on social-media platforms where the world is engaging. As long as the world is there, I’m going to try to bring that light into the dark.”