Trump Campaign Says Silicon Valley 'Terrified' of Conservative Voices After Instagram Bug Silenced Potential Criticism of President

Instagram has been accused of helping to spread "disinformation and smears" against presidential candidate Joe Biden this week after it emerged a "technical bug" disabled potentially-negative related hashtags about Trump.

Research released by the Tech Transparency Project Wednesday revealed the app was not showing content tied to hashtags about the president, while still categorizing posts under Biden-related hashtags, including #creepyjoebiden and #sleepyjoe.

Hashtags on the Facebook platform show automatically-generated phrases that can be followed as a topic, in the same way a person can follow a profile. Limiting related tags for Trump meant users would not see potential criticism, researchers noted.

An Instagram spokesperson said the feature has now been disabled as an investigation takes place, blaming a "technical error" for the hashtags not being shown.

Despite aiding Trump, a spokesperson for the president's 2020 re-election campaign accused Instagram of anti-conservative bias in a statement to BuzzFeed News.

Ken Farnaso, deputy national press secretary, referenced a recent executive order that was signed by Trump, saying: "Social media companies' biases consistently make the strongest arguments for the President's Executive Order on Section 230 reform.

"It's preposterous that Silicon Valley, the bastion of diversity and liberalism, is terrified of intellectual diversity and conservative voices," Farnaso continued.

In May, the president gave the green light on an executive order threatening to revoke Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects social media firms from legal action based on user content, citing a way to combat "censorship."

"Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube wield immense, if not unprecedented, power to shape the interpretation of public events; to censor, delete, or disappear information; and to control what people see or do not see," the order read.

It was signed as Trump was facing pressure from social media giant Twitter, which had started restricting his posts for violating policies. This week, Facebook removed one of his posts that falsely claimed that children are "almost immune" to COVID-19.

Instagram's related hashtags are generated based on user search, meaning they remain open to manipulation and used for election meddling, researchers said.

"Blocking related hashtags for Trump could be construed under campaign finance law as an in-kind donation, and it opened the door for weaponized disinformation against the Biden campaign on a platform that was exploited by Russia during the 2016 election," the Tech Transparency Project explained in its report this week.

Reached for comment, an Instagram spokesperson directed Newsweek to a response the @InstagramComms Twitter account forwarded to BuzzFeed's Ryan Mac, asserting the issue was not one-sided and had been wider that just Trump-Biden.

"This isn't about politics. Tens of thousands of hashtags were affected, and your story cherry-picked a handful of those thousands to fit a sensational narrative. The bug was also not partisan, as you note #democrats was impacted," that tweet read.

Indeed, the related hashtags issue appeared to have removed results for #democrats and #pelosi. It is unclear how long the feature will remain offline. According to the TTP research report, the Instagram algorithm bug had existed since June.

Last month, Facebook announced that it is aiming to help our million people register to vote by sharing information about the process, including on Instagram and Messenger, calling it the "largest voting information campaign in American history."

Its billionaire CEO Mark Zuckerberg has rejected claims the platform has a secret deal in place with president Trump, telling Axios the suggestion was "pretty ridiculous."

Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump participates in the swearing in of General Charles Q. Brown as the incoming Chief of Staff of the Air Force, in the Oval Office of the White House, August 4, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Doug Mills-Pool/Getty