05:12 GMT04 December 2020
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    At an election rally on Monday, US President Donald Trump took aim at big tech and media companies, which he accused of suppressing criticism of Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who has been alleged to have peddled his father's influence to foreign business.

    Facebook insiders have claimed that the social media giant could have 'shadow-banned' US President Donald Trump's son, Donald Jr., and other family members during the election campaign.

    But the corporation, which owns photo-posting site Instagram and mobile phone chat app WhatsApp, held back for fear of being accused of a political bias, the Washington Post reported on Monday.

    The story shines light on how social media sites hide posts from some users from the rest of the online community, a practice dubbed 'shadow-banning', 'stealth-banning' or 'comment-ghosting'.

    The sources told the Washington Post that Donald Trump Jr's Instagram account had been repeatedly flagged after posts were fact-checked by moderators.

    They claimed those "strikes" were removed, as were some against the social media accounts of other Trump family members, many of whom have been actively campaigning for the president's re-election. 

    Facebook spokeswoman Andrea Vallone appeared to deny claims of leniency against pro-Trump accounts, insisting that "many" of them “have been penalized for repeatedly sharing misinformation in the past three months.” But she did not specify what sanctions, if any, had been applied.

    “We don’t disclose the details of these thresholds publicly for very real concerns about gaming the system, but we do send notifications to groups, pages, accounts and advertisers when they’ve received a strike and are receiving reduced distribution, and when they are a repeat offender," Vallone said.

    The company is “responsible for how we apply enforcement, and as a matter of diligence, we will not apply a penalty in rare cases when the rating was not appropriate or warranted under the program’s established guidelines,” she added. 

    At a rally on Monday, Trump again railed against "Big Tech, Big Media" firms like Facebook and Twitter, accusing them of suppressing stories including a New York Post expose alleging influence peddling by Hunter Biden, son of Democratic Party candidate Joie Biden, to foreign businessmen.

    "We don't have freedom of the press," Trump asserted. "We have suppression by the press."

    Twitter suspended the Post's account for two weeks for posting links to the story, a ban that was only lifted on Friday. It also blocked accounts of others who shared the link, including that of White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany. Facebook also blocked links to the story.

    ​Trump and Republican Senators have vowed action against social media firms over the suppression of that story and bans of other conservative user accounts.

    In mid-October the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched proceedings, long threatened by Trump, to strip social media sites of their 'Section 230' protections. Those privileges protect sites and internet service providers against legal action for defamatory or criminal material published by users, on the basis that they are not edited publications but open platforms.

    “Social media companies have a First Amendment right to free speech,” the Trump appointed FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, stated. “But they do not have a First Amendment right to a special immunity denied to other media outlets, such as newspapers and broadcasters.”

    A week later, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to subpoena Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey over claims that they suppressed the NY Post story.


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