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Social media censors misinformation, not on a partisan bias.

Since late May, fact checks, censors, warnings and even removals have appeared on President Trump’s social media posts. Throughout the pandemic, social media companies have been exposed for censoring all kinds of voices, like medical professionals, politicians, event organizers and even the president. 

The problem many have with this censorship is that the majority of these voices appear to be conservative-leaning. Is it true that companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are silencing those with opinions they don’t agree with? Is big tech truly infringing upon the First Amendment and taking away individuals’ and the president’s right to free speech?

While this narrative has been effective in stirring the emotions of those who agree with the voices being censored, it’s most likely not the case. 

The censorship, which began as far back as March, was introduced by most big social media companies as a method to combat dangerous misinformation regarding the pandemic. 

Misinformation is one of the biggest problems related to the pandemic and has made an incredibly complicated issue even more so. Removing harmful, incorrect information from social media sounds like a great step to prevent dangerous underreaction or overaction on a large scale. 

However, this was much easier said than done. 

Almost immediately, people started to take issue with new censorship policies when posts on Facebook were mistakenly blocked by a bug in their anti-spam system. The blocked posts included sources many thought to be legitimate and well recognized like Buzzfeed and USA Today. The bug was soon corrected, but the conspiracy theories had just begun. 

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson spoke about a viral video on TouTube by doctors who were suggesting that the COVID-19 death count was heavily inflated and that serious policy changes were necessary. The video was taken down by YouTube, and Carlson’s main argument was that media giants were silencing any form of dissent from the opinions of those in power. This may sound like something to be seriously worried about, but it’s actually the exact kind of misinformation that threatens our safety. 

The doctors’ statements, thought by many to be a credible source of information, have since been completely debunked and proved to be filled with a variety of statistical errors. YouTube was right to censor this information as it was false and had it been spread any further, it could’ve persuaded the millions who saw it to take the pandemic much less seriously and act accordingly. 

On May 26, 2020, Twitter placed the first fact check warning on one of Trump’s tweets. The president and many of his supporters were outraged, as it seemed as though Twitter was participating in partisan bias and trying to silence Trump for a difference in political views. 

However, when the information contained in the tweet and the surrounding situation is examined closely, it becomes clear why this censorship was justified and necessary for American safety. The tweet was an argument for the theory that mail-in ballots are completely untrustworthy and shouldn’t be used in the upcoming election. The reason Trump made this argument wasn’t that it was true, but because he knows his supporters are more likely than the opposition to disobey quarantine standards and come out in larger numbers for an in-person event, as they have been for months, to protest the quarantine laws.

The tweet was a political move filled with misinformation that could still put people in danger. This is exactly the kind of censorship that isn’t done because of partisan bias, but because false information could put our national health in danger. 

Shortly after Trumps tweet was censored, a federal appeals court rejected a lawsuit claiming that these social media agencies were suppressing conservative views. 

Evan Holden is a sophomore political science major. Contact Evan at holdened@dukes.jmu.edu.