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White House Pushes To Report 'Political Bias' By Social Media Companies


President Trump has a new website up, and it's asking Americans to report when a big tech company censors them. It's the latest move in his campaign against big tech, which he's accused of anti-conservative bias. And compared to other global leaders, he's taking a distinctly adversarial, outsider approach. NPR's Aarti Shahani reports.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: The world over, people are worried that America's social media giants have too much power. Free speech die-hard Jillian York shares that concern. She goes online to check out a survey the White House put up this week.

JILLIAN YORK: So this tool says that social media platforms should advance freedom of speech. I definitely agree with that.

SHAHANI: York is with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for Internet civil liberties. Years ago, she created a similar survey. Trump's asks about immigration status. You must say you're a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident to proceed. It asks which companies have taken action against the respondent.

YORK: Oh, so this is interesting. It's focused only on four platforms.

SHAHANI: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube; hers did, too. Also like hers, Trump's asks for screenshots of what notification or pop-up the tech platform sent when they took censorship action. Though one glaring difference between hers and the president's - his final question to verify you are not a robot.

YORK: The Declaration of Independence was signed in what year?

SHAHANI: That is quite the verification question. Does she know her American history?

YORK: Well, you know, I think I do. It's - I put in 1776.

SHAHANI: York and others say it's hard to know if the White House site is for real or farcical. It has some basic coding errors. It could be designed for data collection or a ploy to collect voter contacts, they say. Either way, the Trump move to protest and shame the social media giant stands in stark contrast to the approach by another head of state, French President Emmanuel Macron.


PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: (Through interpreter) A person who had access online to content of a racist nature.

SHAHANI: Macron, with an English voice-over, speaking at a press conference on Wednesday.


MACRON: (Through interpreter) We have to progress in that area to achieve smart regulation.

SHAHANI: Trump launched his site three weeks after he sat down one-on-one with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, a couple weeks after Facebook banned far-right leaders like Alex Jones, and the same day other heads of state gathered in Paris to commemorate the massacre of Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, which was livestreamed on Facebook.

Macron has been working an insider-outsider strategy. France is developing new laws to combat cyber hate. This week he helped spearhead a gathering where governments and big tech signed a pledge to work together. He also brokered an exclusive deal with Facebook to give French regulators unprecedented insider access to the company to see how censorship decisions are made.


MACRON: (Through interpreter) We must ensure that the platforms withdraw the content and enable us to identify who is disseminating the hate speech and the negative ideas.

SHAHANI: Kate Klonick, a law professor at St. John's University, says Macron and Trump have a lot in common - they both see big tech as a powerful force, they are both threatened by that power, but only one truly gets this fact.

KATE KLONICK: You can't think of these platforms as representing any one particular nation. They're transnational platforms; they represent a global audience.

SHAHANI: White House spokesman Judd Deere says the administration created the online forum because they want to hear from all Americans, regardless of their political leanings.

Aarti Shahani, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Aarti Shahani is a correspondent for NPR. Based in Silicon Valley, she covers the biggest companies on earth. She is also an author. Her first book, Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares (out Oct. 1, 2019), is about the extreme ups and downs her family encountered as immigrants in the U.S. Before journalism, Shahani was a community organizer in her native New York City, helping prisoners and families facing deportation. Even if it looks like she keeps changing careers, she's always doing the same thing: telling stories that matter.
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