Are Facebook, Google, Twitter Manipulating Public Opinion?
Amid the fierce battle to control information and sway public opinion, can you trust giants like Facebook, Google and Twitter? To answer this question, investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson took an in-depth look into efforts to control what we know and spread "fake news."
"News, information and communication is really monopolized on the internet by a select group of people, about four or five leaders in one of the most progressive cities in the world with some of the most progressive workers in the world," Andrew Torba told Attkisson, the host of television show "Full Measure."
After being trolled during the 2016 campaign for his support of Trump, Torba moved from Silicon Valley, California, to Texas and now fights control of information online. He started a social media platform called "Gab," whose tagline is "Free Speech for Everyone."
"What I saw happening as a conservative in Silicon Valley was an agenda being pushed and the conservative side and conservative ideas being suppressed," Torba said.
Asked what areas of the internet are used to shape and manipulate opinions, Matthew Brown, a data analyst, said, "Everywhere social. Everywhere social means specific Facebook pages, but it also means the comment sections in every major newspaper."
In February, Elizabeth Johnston, an Ohio homeschooling mother of 10 who runs the popular conservative blog "The Activist Mommy," accused Facebook of censorship after her account was suspended over posts on what the Bible says about homosexuality and sin.
She told The Christian Post that Facebook suspended her account earlier that month because she wrote about how Leviticus condemns homosexuality as "detestable" and an "abomination." Johnston said the comment in question was posted over six months earlier in a long thread of comments that was in response to another Facebook user who claimed that Christians are hypocrites for condemning homosexuality but being willing to eat shellfish and pork.
Brown added in the show that digital activists are often paid employees, whose purpose is to "attack anyone who's posting something contrary to the view the page owner wants expressed."
Brown evaluated 226,000 pro-Obamacare posts made by 40,000 Facebook profiles, and found that "60 percent of all the posts were made from 100 profiles, posting between the hours of 9 and 5 Pacific Time."
However, it's not just Democrats. "There's no reason to believe that everybody's not doing it," Brown said.
As the use of "fake news" hit headlines during and after the 2016 presidential election, Facebook announced an initiative to stop it. However, the fix involved using fact checkers that many conservatives see as biased.
"Now you see partisans of both parties appropriating and using this [fake news] label merely to apply it to news that they don't like," commented Susan Glasser, who was editor of the left-leaning Politico during the 2016 campaign.
The show also noted that Google's parent company, Alphabet, was a top Clinton donor, and its chief executive worked on the Clinton campaign. Furthermore, former Facebook insiders alleged last year they "routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers."
Earlier this month, leading pro-life organization Operation Rescue accused Google of manipulating the parameters of its search engine to drastically reduce its exposure when people search for information about abortion. Operation Rescue said that since May it had seen a massive drop in the number of people going to its fact page "Abortions in America," which had previously been the most-visited page on the site.
Twitter censors conservatives, but not liberals for similar behavior, Torba said.
In June, Twitter barred pro-life group Live Action from buying ads to promote the dignity of unborn life, claiming it violated their "hate and sensitive content policy."
The ads Twitter deemed hateful and insensitive showed ultrasound images, fact-checked Planned Parenthood's claims, and discussed the beauty of prenatal life. Twitter particularly took issue with a proposed ad that showed a photo of a baby in the womb with text that read: "I Am Not a Potential Human" at the top and "I Am a Human With Potential" at the bottom.
Asked what would his advice be to somebody who's taking part either in social media or looking for information on the web, Brown said, "… Not to believe any of it. Take it all with a grain of salt."