- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Conservatives have griped for years about being undermined by Twitter, but after listening to the Silicon Valley giant’s staffers admit on hidden camera to political bias, the right wants answers.

Calls for Twitter to come clean are rising in the wake of the latest Project Veritas undercover video, which revealed current and former employees admitting to anti-Trump bias and discussing how to shadow-ban and otherwise limit the reach of unfavored accounts.

Media Research Center President Brent Bozell fired off a letter on Friday asking Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey whether “censorship of conservative voices is the official policy at Twitter,” but Mr. Bozell has heard nothing back.

The Project Veritas “videos are definitive evidence of institutional bias against conservatives at Twitter. As board members the American public needs to hear from you. I am awaiting your response,” Mr. Bozell wrote, tagging several members of the Twitter board.

According to Media Research Center Political Director Christian Robey, “Right now it’s crickets.”

He urged Twitter to lift the curtain on its operations in response to the videos, part of Project Veritas’ ongoing series targeting media bias.

“The stakes are so high and Twitter has so much clout that I think that the burden is on them to prove that they’re not guilty of this,” Mr. Robey said.

It may be President Trump’s favorite platform, but Twitter has also been accused for years of anti-conservative bias.

Twitter has banned high-profile figures such as Milo Yiannopoulos and removed a campaign ad by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, over its “inflammatory” reference to her opposition to selling “baby body parts.”

In one memorable incident, Campus Reform’s Kassy Dillon said she was briefly banned in 2016 after she retweeted word for word a post by “Ghostbusters” star Leslie Jones, which included the phrase “Kill yourself bigot,” even though Twitter never sanctioned Ms. Jones — the person who wrote the “death wish.”

Twitter has the right as a private company to make its own policies as to who may use its platform, but the problem for conservatives is that the social media giant has portrayed itself as a politically neutral outlet.

“Twitter may fancy itself the global town square, but it’s clear from our reporting that Twitter is not an open and unbiased platform,” said Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe. “The anonymity of its policies have bred abuse. If Twitter wants to convince its users it truly respects free speech, there must be some transparency.”

Mr. O’Keefe, whose book “American Pravda: My Fight for Truth in the Era of Fake News” was released Tuesday, called for Twitter to release its human resources policies and “bring your shadow-banning out of the shadows.”

Meanwhile, Twitter released a statement denying that it shadow-bans and insisting that it operates a bias-free platform while denouncing the activist watchdog group’s tactics.

“We deplore the deceptive and underhanded tactics by which this footage was obtained and selectively edited to fit a pre-determined narrative,” said a Twitter spokeswoman. “Twitter is committed to enforcing our rules without bias and empowering every voice on our platform, in accordance with the Twitter Rules.”

The tech press rallied to Twitter’s defense with articles such as Slate’s “Why is James O’Keefe Going After Twitter?” and Ars Technica’s “Did Twitter engineers just admit to shadow-banning conservatives? Nope.”

“These videos don’t prove that Twitter has a partisan bias against its far-right conservative users. (Indeed, they’re some of its most prolific users.),” Wired’s Louise Matsakis said in a Tuesday article. “They do show, though, that the right-wing backlash against tech giants has reached a new height.”

Republican operative Roger Stone reiterated last week that he planned to sue Twitter after it banned him, saying he would be joined by Mr. Yiannopoulos.

“Verified tweeters call for my murder online every day, but Twitter doesn’t ban them,” Mr. Stone said in The Hollywood Reporter.

In its statement, Twitter said it does limit the visibility of abusive accounts.

“We do take actions to downrank accounts that are abusive, and mark them accordingly so people can still to click through and see these information if they so choose,” said the statement.

Responded Fox News host Tucker Carlson: “In other words, they do shadow-ban people. They just call it something different.

“The question is, who exactly do they shadow-ban and on the basis of what criteria?” asked Mr. Carlson, adding that Twitter refused to provide him a list of the down-ranked accounts. “Are politics part of the decision-making here?”

The video features former Twitter software engineer Abhinav Vadrevu saying that shadow-banning was used to prevent anyone from interacting with an account without the user knowing it. “I definitely know Reddit does this, but I don’t know if Twitter does this anymore,” he said.

The practice has legitimate objectives, such as to prevent scammers from conning unsuspecting users, but some conservatives have claimed that Twitter has shadow-banned them for their political views.

Paul Chesser, associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center, cited the example of cartoonist Scott Adams, creator of “Dilbert,” who accused Twitter in late 2016 of shrinking his traffic by shadow-banning his account over his outspoken Trump support.

“The only way an individual can find out if they are shadow banned is if his/her followers tell him his tweets are not showing up in their news feeds,” said Mr. Chesser. “Scott, an extremely influential supporter of Trump, said that’s exactly what a number of his 110,000 followers told him was happening. Why wouldn’t the tweets of the popular creator of ‘Dilbert’ show up in your news feed if you are following him?”

He called on Twitter to lift the curtain on its practices and policies.

“Perhaps most offensive is that Twitter’s so cowardly that they censor conservatives or pro-Trumpers in secret, and try to hide it from them,” he said in an email. “Have some courage and just tell us openly to our faces what you’re doing.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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