Tech & Science

White House Rolls Out ‘Tech Bias’ Complaint Form—and It Wants Your Email Address to Stay in Touch

The White House released a survey designed to log complaints about censorship and bias on social media platforms as it harvested users' personal information.

The portal—hosted by Barcelona-based software firm Typeform—was advertised as a way for users to share stories of bias with President Donald Trump. At the same time, it was designed to collect email addresses, ZIP codes and phone numbers of all participants for future use.

“No matter your views, if you suspect political bias has caused you to be censored or silenced online, we want to hear about it!” the White House account tweeted Wednesday.

The survey was initially met with memes about the president blocking Twitter users. But more serious concerns quickly emerged. The survey's user agreement gave the administration the right to edit, then share, any of the stories provided. And it was not exactly clear how the information would be stored and utilized, even, potentially, for the upcoming 2020 election campaign?

A message on the survey read: “SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS should advance FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Yet too many Americans have seen their accounts suspended, banned, or fraudulently reported for unclear ‘violations’ of user policies. No matter your views, if you suspect political bias caused such an action to be taken against you, share your story with President Trump.”

Clicking into the portal—after it takes one's personal information—participants are asked for a social media username, a description of the suspected bias and screenshots for evidence.

By question 14, the page requested that participants stay in touch. “We want to keep you posted on President Trump's fight for free speech. Can we add you to our email newsletters so we can update you without relying on platforms like Facebook and Twitter?” it asked.

Commentators and reporters criticized the unveliing of the tech bias portal, with some questioning the intentions behind the government's data collection effort. 

“There is no indication that the White House has given any thought to the privacy risks of providing this personal data to the federal government,” Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a nonprofit group that focuses on emerging privacy, civil liberties and First Amendment issues, told Politico.

Journalism professor and media critic Jay Rosen quipped: “Everything about this is creepy, stupid and vain.” NBC reporter Ben Collins tweeted: “The propaganda war in 2020 won't happen on Facebook, but in the darkness of a RE:FWD:FWD email to grampa [sic].”

A strong email list is a powerful tool for a political campaign to spread its message to a mass audience—just ask Barack Obama (and now Joe Biden, according to The Daily Beast).

President Donald Trump had long complained about a perceived bias against Republicans and conservatives from some of the most dominant technology platforms.

Two months ago, the president claimed that Facebook, Google and Twitter were “sooo on the side of the Radical Left Democrats.” Last year, he accused Twitter of silencing updates from prominent accounts through a process known as “shadowbanning.” More recent complaints were sparked by an apparent decline in his followers (that Twitter said were likely the actions of bots and spammers).

Facebook and Instagram recently took action against right-wing commentators, including Milo Yiannopoulos, Alex Jones and Laura Loomer, for violating their policies. Twitter denied that it censored or suspended accounts based on political viewpoints or ideology.

But Trump tweeted this month: “I am continuing to monitor the censorship of AMERICAN CITIZENS on social media platforms. This is the United States of America—and we have what’s known as FREEDOM OF SPEECH! We are monitoring and watching.”

Aside from bulking up the newsletter, it remains to be seen how information collected as a result of the questions in the tech bias portal would be used by the Trump administration.

A White House press representative told Newsweek: "The White House wants to hear from all Americans—regardless of their political leanings—if they have been impacted by bias on social media platforms.” The spokesperson did not respond to specific questions about data storage and whether the personal information would be used in future political campaigns.

This article has been updated to include additional comments from the White House spokesperson.

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