Big Tech is playing games with speech. Its primary concern is with neutralizing conservative influence online. It does this by preventing users from hearing or seeing a message that the left disagrees with.
“Big Tech kept information from users on social media over 275 million times last year by blocking influential conservative voices. All users are left with is leftist-approved propaganda,” said Media Research Center President Brent Bozell. “This is secondhand censorship.”
Even new Twitter owner Elon Musk stated that Twitter’s new policy provides “freedom of speech,” but not “freedom of reach,” a sentiment that has been espoused by leftists for several years. The secondhand censorship numbers document that loss of reach — the real harm that results from Big Tech censorship.
“Unfortunately, Musk’s comments about Twitter policy being ‘freedom of speech, but not freedom of reach’ only underscores the true goal of totalitarian censors on the left,” noted MRC Free Speech America & MRC Business Director Michael Morris. “Censors seek to prevent social media users that might otherwise be influenced from seeing a message that leftists disagree with. That is secondhand censorship, and conservatives can’t sit idly by and allow it to happen.”
Using our exclusive CensorTrack.org database, MRC Free Speech America documented 517 cases of Big Tech censorship in 2022. That censorship translated to no fewer than 275,396,336 times that platforms harmed social media users by keeping information from them through secondhand censorship.
Big Tech’s suppressive information practices have worked in tandem with harmful public policy measures that contributed to real-world harm.
“Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health,” reads The Great Barrington Declaration. The document, which has over 936,000 signatories including public health experts and medical practitioners, calls out the negative health impacts of COVID-19 lockdown measures. “The results (to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health – leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice.”
Facebook censored the declaration in February 2021. A Twitter Files release also confirmed that Twitter censored individuals associated with the declaration. But Facebook and Twitter were not alone. Other platforms such as Reddit and Google also censored the declaration.
The impacts of censorship are real, and this report, while not exhaustive, shows the effects of wide scale Big Tech censorship in 2022.
See this link for a breakdown of our third-quarter secondhand censorship numbers.
The Deleterious Secondhand Effects of Big Tech’s Election Interference
Big Tech suppressed election-related information from its users 31,697,353 times over the course of 2022, stemming from 39 documented cases of censorship tracked on CensorTrack.org. During the fourth quarter, the number of times content related to elections was withheld from users was 3,041,876, arising from nine documented cases found on CensorTrack.org.
There’s arguably no clearer example of the harms of secondhand censorship than Big Tech’s censorship of the New York Post’s bombshell Hunter Biden scandals. Among the ways Big Tech prevented users from learning about what was on the younger Biden’s laptop, Facebook fact-checked the story and limited its reach, while Twitter locked the New York Post’s account and prevented other users from sharing a link to the story.
A 2020 MRC poll found that 45 percent of President Joe Biden’s voters weren’t fully aware of the New York Post story precisely because the media and Big Tech whitewashed it. Had his voters been made fully aware of the scandal, 9.4 percent said they would have abandoned him, flipping all six of the swing states from Biden to former President Donald Trump, giving Trump a victorious 311 electoral votes.
The effects of another far-reaching case of censorship occurred when Twitter censored a post by comedian Terrence K. Williams that signaled general concerns about election integrity. This act of censorship harmed Twitter users by denying Williams’s 1,400,000 followers access to election-related information.
Williams summarized his thoughts in the text of the tweet that accompanied the video, claiming that “THE DEMOCRATS CHEAT,” and asserting that the government should “Ban early voting,” “Mail in Ballots” and “Ballot Harvesting.” He also wrote that “ELECTIONS SHOULD BE CALLED ON ELECTION DAY.”
Twitter placed a “Misleading” label on the tweet, encouraging users to “Learn why election experts say elections in the US are safe and secure,” with a link to “[f]ind out more.” Additionally, the tweet received a sharing restriction, preventing it from being liked, replied to or shared without quote tweeting. Williams later tweeted another short video discussing the censorship that included a screenshot indicating his account had been locked. In the video, he said that he was also restricted from using his account for 12 hours.
Facebook, in particular, was very busy censoring election-related content in the month of May, well in advance of the November 2022 midterm elections.
The platform targeted an election-related post by Daily Wire Editor Emeritus Ben Shapiro in November, with the help of its fact-checking partner PolitiFact, as documented in a May 10 CensorTrack.org entry. The “fact-checker” flagged a Daily Wire article that cited political commentator Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary “2000 Mules.” Facebook applied a notice to the post that claimed it was “partly false.” The notice also stated that “the same information was checked in another post by independent fact-checkers.” The notice referred to a PolitiFact article about the documentary that claimed it used a “faulty premise.” The movie documentary examined voter fraud in the 2020 election by using cell phones’ geolocation data.
The secondhand censorship effect of the fact-check harmed Shapiro’s 8.5 million Facebook followers because they weren’t allowed to see information linking potential voter fraud to the 2020 election.
Big Tech’s Silencing of the COVID-19 Debate and Its Resulting Harm
Tech companies denied people access to COVID-19-related content 24,730,381 times during the full year of 2022, stemming from 111 documented cases of censorship.
One of the most significant censorship events in this category during the fourth quarter was Twitter’s censorship of former New York Times journalist and author Alex Berenson. Twitter locked his account in October, Berenson noted Oct. 8 on his Substack. It’s unclear whether a specific post led to the lock, though Berenson has consistently criticized COVID-19 mitigation measures.
This single act of censorship alone harmed Berenson’s 431,131 Twitter followers because it arbitrarily denied them access to COVID-19-related information that he provided.
Big Tech crushed COVID-19 content across social media during the first three quarters of 2022 as well.
Big Tech’s prejudicial effects of secondhand censorship surged across 193,000 subscribers to the Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show when YouTube refused to post the political commentators’ interview of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Paul challenged the left’s narrative by saying there was no logical reason for vaccine mandates to continue, given Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla’s statement that the first two doses ineffectively protected against the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Another substantial censorship act came when both Meta platforms — Facebook and Instagram — de-platformed or unpublished the pages of the liberal Robert F. Kennedy-led group Children’s Health Defense in August at the same time, and without warning.
A screenshot shared by Children’s Health Defense indicated that both Facebook and Instagram accused the group of sharing “false information about COVID-19,” as noted in MRC Free Speech America’s CensorTrack.org database. Children’s Health Defense said that, “more than half a million followers have been denied access to truthful information.” Facebook, meanwhile, claimed the group violated its “Community Standards on misinformation that could cause physical harm.”
Children’s Health Defense had 327,480 Instagram followers and 174,266 Facebook followers at the respective times of censorship. The collective secondhand censorship effect of this suppression amounted to 501,746 times that Big Tech harmed users by hiding COVID-19 perspectives from users.
In addition to the MRC Free Speech America study showing at least 808 documented cases of COVID-19-related censorship by Big Tech platforms through Feb. 3, 2022, multiple Twitter Files releases have further confirmed specific censorship related to COVID-19 on the platform, and that some of the censorship is attributable to pressure applied by the White House, Big Pharma, media and federal agencies. The Twitter Files releases have confirmed that accurate information was censored, thus preventing users from receiving information that could have helped them make better informed decisions about their health, such as whether to receive a vaccine or booster and how to prevent and treat a COVID-19 infection. The total harm perpetrated by this deliberate withholding of accurate information is so massive that it may never be fully understood.
Big Tech’s Suppression of Race-Related Content Prevented Users from Learning Truth
Big Tech also heavily targeted race-related content throughout 2022, keeping this information from social media users 14,221,513 times throughout the year. The resulting secondhand censorship came from 19 cases of censorship documented in our unique CensorTrack.org database.
Big Tech’s social justice warriors ridiculously protected Black Lives Matter groups from boilerplate criticism and satire, even as many heads of the movement have profiteered from racial division.
Some of Black Lives Matter’s most prominent nonprofits have collected “more money than ever” since the 2020 George Floyd riots, according to a Jan. 31 report by New York Magazine:
“They have reaped tens of millions of dollars, while some local organizers stretched themselves to the brink of homelessness. Even as national groups have made overtures to work more closely with community organizers, activists in the latter camp have become concerned that their work is being co-opted by profiteers. This decades-old divide now exists in extreme form within Black Lives Matter. It is simultaneously a decentralized coalition of local organizers who eke out progress city by city, dollar by dollar, and an opaque nonprofit entity, well capitalized and friendly with corporations.”
Facebook targeted race-related content several times, including by demonetizing a music video by The Babylon Bee in January 2022, calling out the Black Lives Matter riots of summer 2020.
The censorship harmed The Babylon Bee’s one million Facebook followers at the time by blocking them from watching political satire, an important tool in shaping the cultural and political landscape.
The Babylon Bee video, headlined "Seasons of Blood: 525,600 Minutes of BLM Riots," parodied Seasons of Love (525,600 minutes) from the Broadway musical Rent.
The song called out the overblown media response to the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot and the utter lack of an equivalent response to the BLM riots the year before. The video said that BLM rioters killed 22 people and destroyed hundreds of black businesses, while Vice President Kamala Harris promoted a bail fund that ended up raising $35 million to bail criminals out of jail.
In May, TikTok removed an episode of MRCTV's Reality Check with Brittany Hughes that it had previously censored and restored. This harmed MRCTV’s 78,700 TikTok followers by preventing their access to information critical of the Biden administration’s prioritization of race when it came to choosing a Supreme Court justice to fill former Justice Stephen Breyer's seat on The Court.
In a TikTok clip of her show “Reality Check,” MRCTV Managing Editor Brittany Hughes blasted the Biden administration for specifying that it would only consider black, female candidates for the role. “The heck with the rest of her resume and the fact that she may in fact actually be the best nominee on merit,” Hughes said. “The litmus test for initial consideration here is simply: black woman.” MRCTV had posted the video in January. TikTok removed and then restored the video in March, only for the platform to remove it once again in May because it “violates [TikTok's] Community Guidelines.” The platform rejected MRCTV's appeal.
Secondhand Censorship Harm for 2022 Summarized
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were the most egregious platforms in terms of secondhand censorship throughout 2022, with Facebook alone accounting for nearly half of the total secondhand censorship.
Overall, there was a reduction in secondhand censorship in the fourth quarter, which provides some cause for cautious optimism. Cases of secondhand censorship in quarter four (23,996,640) were about half of what they were in the third quarter (56,148,107). Cases were down in the last quarter of 2022 on every platform from quarter three, though this was not the lowest quarter of the year for every platform. Both Instagram and YouTube had their lowest numbers tallied in the second quarter of 2022.
The new Republican Congress’ determination to tackle Big Tech censorship may lead to a continuation of the downward trend seen in the fourth quarter as Big Tech platforms attempt to avoid more legislative scrutiny.
Secondhand censorship quantifies the harm that is done to users when Big Tech platforms prevent people from receiving information. Not only does this stifle debate and inhibit both informed choice and consent, when Big Tech censorship occurs under pressure from government officials, it may also violate the constitutional liberties of individuals.
Beyond shaping politics, policy and broader culture in favor of Big Tech’s views, censorship has a chilling effect on the ability of people to exercise free speech. Many users refrain from sharing their true beliefs and opinions for fear of losing access to their social media accounts.
The Twitter Files revealed just a glimpse at how one platform’s censorship is heavily biased against conservatives and is often done at the insistence of government actors. Without being able to read opinions from both sides of an issue, we do not enjoy a free society.
The fundamental, God-given right to free speech must be protected.
Our freedom is at stake.
Heather Moon, Gabriela Pariseau, Paiten Iselin, Catherine Salgado, Brian Bradley, Michael Morris, Gabriella Castro-Vidal and Louie Berbert contributed to this report.
Conservatives are under attack. Contact your representatives and demand that Big Tech be held to account to mirror the First Amendment while providing transparency, clarity on hate speech and equal footing for conservatives. If you have been censored, contact us using CensorTrack’s contact form, and help us hold Big Tech accountable.