It’s one thing to pull down Gab, the site on which Robert Bowers posted anti-Semitic ravings before allegedly killing 11 Jews in a synagogue. It’s another to block legitimate conservative, or liberal, material with no ethnic slurs or hatred expressed in it.
The debate is heating up as conservative voices claim they are being stymied in social media.
For example, Todd Cefaratti, founder of Teaparty.net, says his firm was “one of the first organizations that felt the effects of throttling and censorship by Facebook. It went from 3 million page views per day to probably a couple of hundred thousand literally overnight.”
TeaParty.net started that free fall in March 2015 This was before Donald Trump was a candidate.
“We monitored our traffic and on any given day, it was down to 700, (apparently per story), we literally fell off a cliff overnight. We thought we’d been hacked.”
Cefaratti determined that “it was impossible that overnight, all of our followers decided they didn’t like our content.”
The solution for Teaparty.net was email — email newsletters filled with curated content, with advertising supplied by Powerinbox, going to people who had opted in.
Teaparty.net has since been acquired by Liftable, producer of an email newsletter called Western Journal. It appears, based on a quick reading, to be a journalistic product with a conservative skew, but serious in tone. It is also served by Powerinbox.
We’ll leave our own political views out of it, but there are two questions here. First, should the social media sites be able to block political content? And who gets to decide what is acceptable?
Censoring content is a First Amendment issue only if the government does it. But a First Amendment absolutist would argue that nothing should be blocked anywhere, except maybe to have an algorithm that knocks out racial epithets and profanity.
Everyone deserves their forum, although you might recall A.J. Liebling’s famous comment — that freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.
Here’s another truism about the First Amendment: You have the right to be wrong. When it comes to free expression, it’s not important whether you agree with the Tea Party or Bernie Sanders or not: They're entitled to their say.
And what does Powerinbox say? That content is being slowed down by social sites, but not necessarily in a political way.
“We work with a number of GOP advertisers, and the feedback recently was that it’s not so much the content I discuss, but the number of hurdles for what they consider a political advertiser,” says salesperson Dan Lieberman.
He continues that “the process to get on Facebook requires individuals to send a driver’s license, and get a piece of mail with confirmation code. A lot of people who weren’t prepared to take those steps are looking for new platforms or agencies.”
So email is the medium of choice — you’re sending content to subscribers who have opted in to receive it. They’re loyalists. This is good for ESPs and outfits like Powerinbox, which will serve either liberal or conservative senders, says CEO Jeff Kupietzky.
Not that email is always safe: if something is flagged as hate speech, it can find itself in the crosshairs of Spamhaus. And don’t forget that conspiracy monger Alex Jones was booted off MailChimp.
Subscribers to conservative and liberal newsletters enjoy reading content that supports their views. But some people may want to escape the half-insane debate that now dominates the internet. You may find them checking their mobile devices less and only going on desktop once or twice a day. The news has been horrific.
This could suppress email engagement in general, or it could be an opportunity for brands that send emails populated with familiar, reassuring tropes. On Thanksgiving, no matter who wins, they may feel nothing but relief.