Aldon Thomas Stiles, California Black Media
Aja Smith, a Black Republican running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, has filed a complaint against Facebook, Twitter, and Google.
In her grievance dated Oct. 6, 2020, and addressed to U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, Smith accuses the three California-based tech companies of violating the Federal Election Campaign Act by supporting Democratic candidates.
Smith, who is on the ballot to represent California’s 41st congressional district, which covers an area in Western Riverside County, also claims that those companies engaged in “shadow banning” of her and other conservatives. Shadow banning, she says, involves manipulating a digital platform’s algorithm to hide certain posts from end users.
“We’re seeing more censorship when people post their own opinions, and they’re good opinions,” Smith said. “I see them getting shadow banned on Twitter and Facebook.”
Smith said she first noticed the practice around the last presidential election.
“I saw this starting back in 2016 as conservatives were getting more active on Facebook. A lot of things were being censored when we started talking about being pro-life, the First Amendment, the Second Amendment. And I saw it beginning to happen more and more over the years.”
President Donald Trump has been a vocal critic of social media companies that censor conversations on their platforms. In May, Twitter hid one of the POTUS’ tweets, claiming it violated their policy about glorifying violence.
That same month, President Trump issued an executive order aimed at social media platforms after Twitter added a fact check link to another of his posts about mail-in ballots.
“In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to hand pick the speech Americans may access and convey on the internet,” the executive order reads. “This practice is fundamentally un-American and undemocratic.”
Currently, sites like Twitter and Facebook are protected by law when they block content that they deem violent, offensive or “otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.” The president’s executive order makes the argument that these protections should be removed if a tech platform engages in hiding or placing warnings on posts, setting the stage for legislation or new federal regulation aimed at those companies.
“It’s really bad if even our own president is getting censored on Twitter and Facebook,” Smith said.
Earlier this month, Twitter announced that it removed fake accounts of people pretending to be Black conservatives and supporters of President Trump.
This week, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today a letter urging Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to do more to stem disinformation on their platforms that could “harm the upcoming U.S. election.”
“In 2016, we saw a concerted campaign to use social media to amplify disinformation in order to disrupt our election,” he wrote. “As a country, we must reject these tactics. As Californians begin voting in another election of national importance, I’m calling on our technology giants to do everything in their power to put a stop to election interference. These companies should take responsibility for their role in spreading misinformation and voter suppression.”
Smith keeps her focus on the censorship. She, along with other conservatives, insist that digital media platforms should be investigated, and the government should reevaluate their status.
“Either you’re a free speech platform or you’re a publisher,” Smith said.
Last week, the progressive publication Mother Jones reacted to news that Facebook’s adjustment of its algorithm in 2017 in an effort to stem misinformation, specifically targeted certain left-leaning publications, reducing significant amounts of traffic to them. The effort led to the company losing more than $600,000 over 18 months.
“One reason this is so enraging is that I’ve so long insisted on giving Facebook some benefit of the doubt. I was convinced we were a random casualty of their broader trajectory, a fly on their windshield. But it’s always, always worse,” Monika Bauerlein, CEO of Mother Jones, tweeted.
Smith believes that the tech companies are targeting some conservatives specifically because of their race.
“They’re really suppressing our free speech; especially candidates who are trying to get our messages out — not only to our constituents, but also to a lot of other people across the country to say ‘hey, we’re running, we’re conservative, we’re minorities, we’re running in blue states and we’re here to make a difference,’” Smith said.
Many conservatives have discussed making the move to another social media platform called Parler, a micro-blogging service popular among far-right conservatives and Saudi nationalists that allows users to moderate their own content as opposed to a tech platform regulating posts it classifies as hate speech or misinformation.
While Smith says she appreciates the freedom of self-moderation, she does not want conservatives isolated in an echo chamber only speaking to each other.
“I don’t want to stick to one social media platform where I’m talking to people who are all like-minded,” Smith said. “I want to speak to people on the Independent side, the no-party preference side and even moderate democrats. I want to say, ‘Hey, I’m different than my opponent and this is what I stand for,’ especially on fighting sex trafficking and fighting homelessness.”
Smith also mentioned how Twitter and Facebook have made it difficult for her to speak to her supporters about her opponent, Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA-41), whose relationship with Ukraine she has questioned.
Smith says she also takes issue with Facebook and Twitter’s fact checking practices, claiming that they, “remind me of Nazi Germany.” She also claims that the social media giants rely on sources that are “far-left leaning” to support their fact checking and that they “change historical facts.”
“How are you fact checking what I’m saying, and you’re only using the sources that you think will justify my post or anyone else’s post as wrong?” Smith said. “That’s the problem. That’s why we have open debate.”
Smith feels that if her posts, and posts from others like her, did not face these challenges, many voters would get a clearer picture of the current Republican party.
“We’re beating the narrative that there aren’t any conservative minorities and that we’re the party of racists,” she says.