Who’s Controlling What You Read?

As a consumer, if you abhor censorship and want to protect free speech — a basic human right in a democracy — you must help keep print media alive. Circulation for newspapers and magazines is at an all-time low, thanks to mobile phones and other internet-enabled devices diverting our attention, not to mention that of advertisers, to search engines and other digital platforms.

Here’s the problem with social media: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and others are filtering content — i.e., censoring what we see online — using algorithms and other opaque technological methods unbeknownst to most consumers.

Another such method is “shadow banning.” A person might wonder why no one is engaging with his content. It’s because people aren’t seeing it. Wikipedia defines shadow banning as “the act of blocking a user or their content from an online community such that the user does not realize that they have been banned. By making a problem user’s contributions invisible or less prominent to other members of the service, the hope is that in the absence of reactions to their comments, the problematic user will become bored or frustrated and leave the site.”

Unlike print media, where everyone can see an article once it’s been published, social networks, search engines and other digital content providers — run by countless left-wing ideologues with political agendas — are controlling what information we see in our feeds and other places online. With 1.86 billion people active on Facebook alone, this is serious business. The majority of adults get their news using digital platforms. A 2016 Pew Research Center study found that 44 percent of Americans get their news on Facebook.

This encompasses all kinds of news, including political information that can sway voters, shape public opinion and impact elections.

Social networks feign innocence by pretending they’re merely following guidelines and “curating” news for us by customizing what appears in our feeds based on our preferences. This may or may not include whom we interact with online, search histories, buying habits, likes and dislikes. Many of us, however, call it what it is — censorship — as all too often, conservative content is being blocked from public view across the digital spectrum.

And there are bona fide lawsuits to prove it.

PragerU, a conservative organization that streams video content online, is currently suing YouTube and Google for blocking at least 50 of its educational videos, according to its website. “Watch any one of our videos and you’ll immediately realize that Google/YouTube censorship is entirely ideologically driven,” says Dennis Prager, its founder. “For the record, our videos are presented by some of the finest minds in the Western world, including four Pulitzer Prize winners, former prime ministers, and professors from the most prestigious universities in America.” He adds that Google and YouTube “are engaging in an arbitrary and capricious use of their ‘restricted mode’ and ‘demonetization’ to restrict non-left political thought. Their censorship is profoundly damaging because Google and YouTube own and control the largest forum for public participation in video-based speech in … the world.”

Many other conservatives — both individuals and pro-life advocacy groups, including the Susan B. Anthony List and Live Action — have also seen their content and advertisements blocked online for no other reason than they might offend a pro-choice liberal in Silicon Valley or elsewhere.

But it’s not just conservative groups whose content is being censored and/or discriminated against online. It’s conservative members of Congress. In 2017, Twitter barred a political advertisement created by Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s Senate campaign for referencing that in her role as chair of the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, she “fought Planned Parenthood and … stopped the sale of baby body parts” — something Twitter found “inflammatory.”

How many other voices are being suppressed online and in our collective news feed? And how pervasive is shadow banning?

Until we find out, consider picking up a newspaper of your choice. Yes, editors of newspapers and magazines decide what content goes to print. But once it’s published, everyone can see it. There are no shadowy algorithms or other technological machinations controlling who sees what.

In print, what you see is what you get.

About Adriana Cohen

Adriana Cohen is host of the “Adriana Cohen Show” heard Wednesdays at noon on Boston Herald Radio. Follow her on Twitter @AdrianaCohen16.