By Larry Keane
It’s time the little bluebirds of Twitter come home to roost. While we’re at it, clean out the henhouse of Facebook, Instagram, Google and the other plucky tech giants.
The Trump administration is laying the groundwork to fence them all in for their blatant discrimination. It’s about time. Where’s the “hell-yes” emoji?
Under consideration is the creation of a White House commission to explore allegations of anticonservative bias by social media businesses. Interestingly, it’s coming from the most prolific Twitter user to occupy the White House. It’s also not the first time President Donald Trump’s torched social media platforms, according to The Hill, which reported the president tweeted in 2019 the tech giants engage in, “tremendous dishonesty, bias, discrimination and suppression practiced by certain companies. We will not let them get away with it much longer.”
Vice President Mike Pence told Breitbart, “Well, the president has made it very clear that we are not going to tolerate censorship on the Internet and social media against conservatives. We’re just not going to tolerate it.”
The pressure is building. News broke last year that the Justice Department was investigating unspecified online platforms to consider concerns raised about “search, social media and some retail services online.” Independently, 47 state attorneys general are probing Facebook for antitrust violations.
The firearm and ammunition industry has more than a few instances of documented antigun bias by social media companies. There’s a love-hate relationship with the social media platforms. They’ve become so ubiquitous that it’s nearly impossible to reach customers without them. NSSF has argued they’ve become the virtual public square, where people from every walk of life can not only see pictures and video of friends and family, but express ideas, debate topics and participate in civic discourse. That is, of course, if they’re allowed.
Jessica Keffer, the marketing manager for the Sportsman’s Shop in East Earl, Pa., went on Fox and Friends to describe the discrimination her business faced from Facebook. She was booted for advertising on Facebook over American flags. Keffer’s ad wasn’t about gun sales, but with her attempt to boost an “Honor the Flag” promotion. The ad was approved and then rejected. The reason given was, “It’s because you have a link to your website on your page which does sell firearms. That’s also against our policies I’m afraid.”
The ad had nothing to do with selling guns and while the Sportsman’s Shop sells guns, all sales are completed in a face-to-face transaction, and with a background check, in accordance with federal and state laws.
Keffer was pointed to Facebook’s Prohibited Content section, a part of the social media giants Ad Policies. “Ads must not promote the sale or use of weapons, ammunition, or explosives,” one of the subsections reads. But Keffer’s ad was about flags, not guns. The Daily Caller dug deeper and Facebook told them since the page links back to the shop’s website, which advertises guns, they canned the ad.
It wasn’t just Mark Zuckerburg’s baby. Tech giant Google assigns a “Family Status” to every product in the Google Shopping function. In 2012, Google moved firearm-related content to the same “non family safe” category as adult content. The bias didn’t end there.
Google discriminated against Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, a conservation organization that is dedicated to putting millions of acres into perpetual trusts and conservation lands and restoring wild elk populations across America. RMEF wanted to promote an eight-minute video about the benefits of hunting to conservation. Google labeled it “animal cruelty.”
It didn’t get turned around until U.S. Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) sent a letter to Google’s CEO demanding answers.
It wasn’t the first time, either. Google owns YouTube, which shut down Brownells’ channel without warming in 2018. Brownells’ 69,000 subscribers, and the company, were left in the dark. Brownells issued a social media call-to-arms and their customers responded and YouTube restored the channel. The whole dustup was for supposed “violating YouTube Community Guidelines.” Even founder of Ars Techica and former Wired editor Jon Stokes scratching his head. He’s plugged into all things in the tech world and he couldn’t make the connection to any community standard that would have possibly posed a hazard.
Stokes tweeted, “I gotta say something else about this. Brownells is like the stodgiest, old-schoolest, non-tactical, non- ‘assault rifle’, old-hunting-guy brand in the gun world. When your platform has summarily executed Brownells, you’ve just gone too far.”
These tech giants, for years, have been infringing First Amendment rights to quash Second Amendment rights. Buying and selling guns is a constitutionally-protected right. A three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said as much in their ruling on Teixeira vs. Alameda County that reads “the right to purchase and sell firearms is part and parcel of the historically recognized right to keep and bear arms.”
Social media corporations have been suppressing the firearm industry, gun ownership, firearm safety and anything that could be related to guns in the name of “community standards” and what they determine to be in the best interests of Americans. That right doesn’t belong to virtual overlords. That free exchange of ideas belongs to the people.
It’s time the bluebirds came home to roost.
Larry Keane is Senior Vice President of Government and Public Affairs and General Counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry trade association.