On Thursday’s MSNBC Live host Ali Velshi was joined by NBC reporter Ben Collins and Syracuse Professor Jennifer Grygiel to talk about the social media summit President Trump had at the White House. Just like conversations on the news media, the liberals insist there is no bias against conservatives in social media. Collins denounced the summit as a a gathering of “disinformation peddlers writ large” and “This isn’t about censorship. This is about building a coalition of dirty tricksters on the internet to get ready for 2020.“
The Media Research Center was among the groups invited to the summit, since our TechWatch project exposes bias and censorship in social media. Smearing everyone in the room as a disinformer is….disinformation.
Collins began by stating that nobody at the summit has actually been banned from social media — which is only true if it means a permanent ban. It doesn’t count censorship like Prager U has experienced where they’re put in a “restricted” backwater, or count temporary account takedowns (which has happened to people at MRC). He condemned the White House for inviting people such as Jim Hoft to the summit because Hoft is a spreader of false information. Collins declared that “This is the kind of thing that they are trying to protect at the White House going to 2020. This allows them to create innuendo against specific candidates they don’t like, against parties they don’t like.”
Please just sit here for a minute and ponder MSNBC complaining about someone else “creating innuendo about candidates they don’t like.”
Trump should not have invited conspiracy peddlers to the White House, but it would be nice if NBC held itself to similar standards on disinformation. MSNBC has employed racial hoaxster Al Sharpton for eight years now. While citing 4chan during baseless speculation about terrorist attacks is bad, so is baseless speculation about the political leanings of mass murderers who shoot up movie theaters.
Grygiel compained that the real social media bias was that Twitter has allowed Trump to go around the press, as if the press hasn’t been addicted to reporting Trump’s tweets. She argued “it’s concerning when the President of the United States is sharing this to build audience and I think, again, he wants to circumvent the press to shape public opinion.”
Velshi later asked Collins if conservatives have any proof of social media bias. Collins declared that, “No. They don’t have data and they will say this.” Here Collins misses the point. It is not detailed spreadsheets that are proof of social media bias, but the rules that govern their terms of service that again bring up the age-old problem of what constitutes “hate speech.” In a day where everyone that disagrees with the left is deemed this-ist or that-phobic, the rules of the game are inherently slanted against people who diverge from left-wing orthodoxy.
3:37 PM ET
ALI VELSHI: Joining me now to have a closer look at this are NBC News’ Ben Collins who covers disinformation, extremism, and the internet and Jennifer Grygiel, an assistant professor of communications at Syracuse University who’s done extensive research on bias and social media. Welcome to both you. Thank you for being here. Ben, you tweeted earlier this afternoon “there’s an intense irony in inviting YouTube stars and Facebook disinformation peddlers to the White House to bemoan ‘censorship’ and ‘bias’ when it was those sites’ algorithms that prized their sensational, extreme views to begin with, allowing them to famously complain about it.” I mean the further irony is that the president carrying on about Twitter as well, which is sort of his principal means for getting his information out.
BEN COLLINS: Exactly. These people are complaining about the fact that they were censored. They’re weren’t censored. They’re still on there, every single person who’s going to this event that we know of —
VELSHI: Nobody there has been banned from these platforms.
COLLINS: Exactly, in fact, the scariest part about this whole thing is these are disinformation peddlers writ large I would say. There is a guy named Jim Hoft who runs this website called Gateway Pundit who four times in the first 20 months of the Trump Administration labeled the wrong person as the person who perpetrated a terror attack. Usually it’s to score political points against Democrats, but he was, like, randomly listing people based on anonymous posts on 4chan and Twitter. This is the kind of thing that they are trying to protect at the White House going to 2020. This allows them to create innuendo against specific candidates they don’t like, against parties they don’t like. That sort of disinformation when is very harmful to democracy.
VELSHI: So this is a bit like after the last election, Jennifer, when we knew there was interference in the election. The president created a voter fraud commission that was sort of seemed to be designed to disenfranchise people or, you know, we’re looking at various other issues, it’s a bit of a redirection campaign. Whatever this meeting is, it’s not actually the thing that’s going to solve what are some very legitimate issues that should be discussed about social media.
JENNIFER GRYGIEL: Yeah, and one of the biggest issues, a lot of people will be focusing on bias in the platforms. What we need to start talking about is the President of the United States is cultivating his own media channel. Nothing says that he a right or needs to communicate to 61 plus million plus people on Twitter. He’s claiming bias. But maybe we should say that the President of the United States should not be able to circumvent the press, okay, so that’s what happening. The people he’s inviting to the White House are people who are amplifying his message. He leverages Fox News, et cetera, but they’re not even at the White House. It’s really these fringe actors who are amplifying. It’s a way to cheat the algorithm into promote more content so he can get views and what he’s doing often is sharing memes with misinformation because they just need to go viral. They don’t need to be truthful to have reach. But it’s concerning when the President of the United States is sharing this to build audience and I think, again, he wants to circumvent the press to shape public opinion.
VELSHI: Not only, do they not have to be truthful to get the reach. We’ve discussed so many times, the fact that things that are not truthful often have better reach
VELSHI: Jennifer, Michael Beckerman, the President and CEO of the Internet Association which represents the internet companies gave this statement to the Washington Post ahead of the event. He said “Online platforms are the best tool for promoting voices from all perspectives in history. Internet companies are not biased against any political ideology, and conservative voices in particular have used social media to great effect. Internet companies depend on their users’ trust from across the political spectrum to grow and succeed.” On the surface of it, that statement sounds good, except that we are in a moment in time where no matter where you are on the political spectrum, you can find something to complain about with these internet companies and the social media companies in particular. They don’t have the best footing right now because they haven’t necessarily handled information well.
GRYGIEL: Exactly. What we have to be concerned about is transparency within the algorithm. We don’t really know if there is bias to be honest. We need to be able to get some type of auditors in place to take a look at this. There’s nothing saying actually that the president didn’t benefit from algorithmic changes at Facebook, for example. We just don’t know. So we need some more regulatory action around social media to make sure these platforms aren’t being abused by external actors, internal actors, state actors, you name it. We need some transparency here. It’s time
VELSHI: So, Ben when the president and his supporters complain about anti-conservative bias on social media, do they have evidence to back up their claims?
COLLINS: No. They don’t have data and they will say this. Like, we have these anecdotal ideas, or, whatever. Or sometimes they are victims of a mishap or something involving the algorithm. And they bring that up. That usually get fixed. That’s why Jack Dorsey went to the White House a few months ago to talk about that. But I think this is a useful thing. I think that today all of this being framed as the same conversation they’ve been having saying this is a conversation about censorship and yet bringing in all of these people from the far right. The facade’s gone now. This isn’t about censorship. This is about building a coalition of dirty tricksters on the internet to get ready for 2020, getting them all in a room around the president saying, “hey, here’s a face to a name,” and this is, again, behind closed doors for most of this meeting. And then by the end of it they can come together and they can say that, oh, we actually just talked about censorship the whole time. But it’s not about that. It’s about getting disinformation out there faster than the way the president sort of approves it.