Donald Trump wrapping himself over the flag at CPAC on Feb. 29, 2020.
Donald Trump wrapping himself over the flag at CPAC on Feb. 29, 2020.
Photo: Tasos Katopodis (Getty Images)

Polling has shown that Republican voters, by and large, buy Donald Trump’s repeated and baseless claims that social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are systematically trying to hound right-wingers off the internet. But it isn’t clear what exactly they think is going on behind the scenes beyond a gut feeling that something nefarious is happening.

Gizmodo went to the belly of the beast, Conservative Political Action Conference 2020 (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, to ask conservatives whether they think social media companies are biased against them and what, specifically, they think they can’t say online anymore. We received a range of answers, ranging from the anecdotal and apocryphal to complaints about poor user support and enforcement of policies against misgendering and hate speech. We also looked into some of their accounts to see if we could figure out what the hell is going on. (Some of the interviews have been condensed for brevity.)

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So, CPAC attendees, what can’t you say online anymore?

“Grizzly Joe,” podcaster 

Grizzly Joe.
Grizzly Joe.
Photo: Tom McKay (Gizmodo)

I understand the argument that they are [censoring conservatives on social media], because it seems like a lot of conservative stuff gets shut down. But a lot of it, I guess to an extent they are, but a lot of it too is how conservatives talk. I know people that, friends, well known friends that I’m not going to name, that get suspended from Twitter, etc. and stuff. But it is because it’s the way they present the stuff. I’m retired NYPD, so I know how to talk to people, and I know how to, you know, smooth talk people and still get my point across. I agree that something is going on in the algorithms... But there’s something that works against conservatives on social media. There’s no question about it. But like I said, some of the people that complain “Oh, I’m being shadowbanned, oh, I lost a hundred followers last night on Twitter.” Now, I take my Twitter feed very seriously and curate it. If you’re a porn bot, a buxom young lady with ample chestitude we’ll call it, I’ll investigate, but then I block those things so I don’t lose followers. So when people say, “Oh, well, I lost all these followers.” Yeah, but if you let her! I have 35,000 followers on Twitter. If I let everybody follow me over here that ever follows me? I put it being easily a hundred thousand.

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Mhm.

And so if they want to, if Twitter goes through once around, cleans out the porn bots, lets say, or the other whatever nonsense is going. Yeah. If you don’t watch who follows you when Twitter decides to clean out the garbage, you don’t lose followers. Don’t whine to me that you’re losing followers when they’re all fake accounts with buxom young ladies in the profile, you know what I mean? But I have no doubt that there is maybe like a certain algorithm bias against. Surely I don’t doubt that some people get shut down automatically.

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[...]

Yeah. Do you think it’s selectively enforced to add followers on one side, more on the other?

I have no doubt that it’s selectively enforced up to a point because it does seem a lot of let’s just say left of center stuff, is allowed to happen.

You know, yappity yap, whatever kind of B.S. pinko commie sons of bitches say on it, and it seems to affect the right side more. Because we know there is a human element in there somewhere. Once in awhile, there’s somebody comes out, a whistleblower or whatever comes out and says, “I worked at wherever and this is what they do.” So you start to see behind the curtain. It is what it is, it’s a private businesses that can do whatever the hell they want. But they should be clear about what they will permit and not.

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Laura Loomer, congressional candidate banned from Uber and Lyft for racism

Laura Loomer.
Laura Loomer.
Photo: Tom McKay (Gizmodo)

... I was banned for a tweet in which I said [Minnesota Representative] Ilhan Omar was anti-Jewish. And I posted a tweet after she was elected, and they said that it was hate speech for me saying she was anti-Jewish.

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Uh huh. That was the specific wording that you used?

Yeah. That she is pro-Sharia and anti-Jewish.

Oh, OK. So you said something Islamophobic.

So it’s Islamophobic to point out Jew hatred?

No, it’s Islamophobic to accuse her of being pro-Sharia just because-

She is. She is pro Sharia. The use of hijab displays the fact that she is pro-Sharia. She’s upholding Islamic law.

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So you don’t think that you can, you know, just say that on Twitter anymore.

There is nothing wrong. It’s completely factual. And she pals around with Linda Sarsour.

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[Loomer once handcuffed herself to the Twitter offices in an unsuccessful attempt to get her account back. Representative Omar does not support the imposition of Sharia law.]

“Foreman Mike,” guy crowdfunding a border wall

I absolutely do. It’s my firm belief that the distortion of the truth comes right from their keyboards. I believe the leaning liberal left, the socialist movement, for whatever reason, is trying to stop conservative beliefs and capitalism in business and basically just give the web and the country away. Let’s let everybody in. Everybody gets free stuff and we can ride a unicorn, I don’t agree with that at all.

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But what specifically do you think you can’t say on Facebook or Twitter anymore?

There’s a lot of stuff that you can’t say. There’s a lot of stuff that would get you banned or barred or thrown off. I do not handle any of my Twitter accounts. They’re handled by a specialist and my personal accounts, I stay very guarded. I don’t curse, use religious slangs, or you know, you can’t use any color remarks. You know, people, you know, down at the street level, regular guys, we’re all hanging out. Martin and Jeff. And you do that on Facebook or something, you get barred or get suspended for breaching your belief or saying what you want.

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What do you mean by saying what you want?

Well, there’s people out there. I see they get thrown off every month. They go to so-called Facebook jail, you know, for making a comment about your dog’s ugly or I don’t like Ford, or whatever it is. You know, and you see it more and more, it’s become more prevalent. Ten years ago, it wasn’t like that.

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Yeah but, do you say like, an example of [such] a comment is “Your dog is ugly”?

Let’s use gun rights. In other words [...] nobody’s got a right to take my Second Amendment away, you know, free speech. And then somebody on the opposing side can say the exact same thing, but the conservative gets barred.

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But not for saying that they support gun rights.

Oh, you know, fighting, fighting and bitching and hollering about the government. You know, people have to learn how to write comments again. They have to learn to write correctly again so they’re not so offensive.

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Steve, student from New Jersey

Well, just the other day there’s the guy. There’s um, on Twitter there, I don’t know if you ever heard of this musician, Zuby? He’s like a pro-Trump guy. I think he’s always lived in Ghana or something, Nigeria. Nigeria. But he basically like, he just said, like, OK dude, to like a reply that was like coming after him, insulting him or something. And then he got reported for misgendering the person, you know, it wasn’t even like supposed to be about the gender. 

Like stuff like that that’s just like, like, politically correct madness.

So do you think that misgendering people is politically, er, a policy against it-

Well it wasn’t misgendering at all! Like I call people dude all the time. It doesn’t matter what gender they are. Just like, just like hypersensitivity, anything like just assuming like the worst about people’s motives. That’s stuff that like I can’t stand.

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[Zuby’s website says he lives and was born in England, grew up in Saudi Arabia, and attended Oxford. The user he was responding to, data scientist Emily Gorcenski, says she is regularly misgendered on social media; Twitter prompted Zuby to delete the tweet but did not suspend his account.]

Kevin Thomas, student

Kevin Thomas.
Kevin Thomas.
Photo: Tom McKay (Gizmodo)

I absolutely do. You know, me as a conservative, browsing through Facebook and Twitter I see, you know, almost nothing except for these liberal advertisers, for these Democratic candidates’ campaigns and such, when, you know, you see on other platforms on the internet itself how it will tailor its advertisements to the things you look at, the things you do, the things you browse.

But it just so happens that on social media, that’s not the case. You know, whereas everywhere else on the internet, that is exactly what happens. Therefore, I can only see that as a kind of bias where they want to show everybody these different liberal advertisements.

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Do you think that they’re censoring conservatives in other ways? Like, there’s users that complain about bans, stuff like that?

Absolutely. You know, you see on Twitter all the time users that are tweeting these pro-gun, anti-abortion tweets, getting banned from Twitter, for terms of use violations when it’s perfectly fine and not a violation of any sort of terms of service to glorify the killing of infants, and the killing of babies and infanticid and such like that.

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Can you provide any specific examples of a tweet that you’ve seen somebody get in trouble for? Like, what was the specific wording there?

I can I can absolutely provide the example of a user who’s had his tweets taken down. Matt Walsh, tends to have some tweets taken down, a writer from the Daily Wire, has had several tweets taken down. As far as actual wording, you know, I want to say that it’s more so his anti-abortion tweets, saying that somebody that is against abortion or somebody that is pro abortion, sorry, is in the wrong, and it is the same thing as murder and killing somebody.

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Sharon Caldwell, attendee

Absolutely, yes.

How so?

I personally know. Now I will tell you, I am not on social at all, personally. But I do know people who are. And I know cousins and friends and relatives who have had posts taken down—Facebook, YouTube—that were conservative in nature and not offensive. Not really, to anyone with half a brain. Yeah.

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Can you be a little bit more specific by what you mean by not offensive?

Well, yeah. For example, last year at CPAC 2019. This is not a personal friend of mine, but there is a little gal, Millie [...] She, I don’t know how old she is now. She used to be, you know, eight, and nine, and ten, I don’t know. But I don’t know how old she was last year at CPAC. But it was a little gal expressing at CPAC, 10 years old, whatever she was. She was expressing her support for Donald Trump. And then she went on to say why she likes Donald Trump. She likes his policies. She likes his policy on immigration. She likes it. Here’s this little gal. And she’s explaining very nicely why she likes President Trump.

That was posted on YouTube and then it was taken down.

Do you know why specifically it was taken down, what she said? 

I do not know exactly, but she’s little eight year old girl or whatever how old she was, there was nothing offensive in there, I can guarantee that.

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[Caldwell appears to be referencing Millie March, who went viral in 2017 for videos in which she supported Donald Trump and, rather unfortunately interviewed GOP Alabama Senate candidate and accused pedophile Roy Moore. It’s possible that a video of March was removed at some point, but searches for her name come up immediately in YouTube search results, including a video with over a million views.] 

Adam Joseph, student

I most certainly do think that. I was on Twitter, this is a year or two ago, and I had my account suspended for being under 13. I was 17 at the time and I submitted a complaint on Twitter about it. I have received over a thousand followers on Twitter, and I, that’s like, someone’s tweets, I guess, blow up. But then my account was suspended and they said they’d get back to it momentarily.

Six months later, they come around. My account’s finally reinstated after I made another one because I couldn’t get, reach anyone at Twitter. And I know people who are like, such as Jacob Wohl*, who are just like completely banned from Twitter. And it’s so blatantly obvious how tech companies, these are pushing the agenda of the left sometimes, and trying to... they are covert about it but they’re also very, it’s very obvious when you start looking into it how many conservatives are silenced on social media.

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So with the whole thing your account was banned for, maybe it had an underage birthday or something listed with it. I don’t know. But how do you know that has anything to do with you being a conservative?

Well, I can’t say that’s immediate, like, like 100 percent tied to it. But I think that it’s a part on Twitter, at least, it’s not. I’m not going to say that Twitter did that just because I posted conservative stuff. I am willing to come out and say that it’s because, that, because of my conservative views, it took them so long to reinstate my account. I had completely given up on that until I got an e-mail one day about that.

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And you mentioned seeing other people get banned for posting stuff here. What kind of stuff did they say?

It was stuff that might be considered offensive to liberals, people on the left.

Mhm.

But its things such as like, just supporting President Trump, and conservative candidates for Congress, such as Laura Loomer. It was just...

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Yeah. But was it stuff that was specifically offensive?

I can’t, I don’t know what it was that’s offensive, that got them... It’s like these random, like little things that they get, that people get offended by it. And there’s this shadow banning tests that you can do for Twitter, like see if your account shows up and stuff.

And even president, sometimes I search POTUS, and it just doesn’t show up. And it’s things like that that are irritating.

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That’s because his handle is realDonaldTrump. Or do you mean the official [Presidential] one? 

Yeah, the official one.

Yeah, I have actually seen that problem.

Yeah.

*[Jacob Wohl, a conspiracy theorist, was banned from Twitter after admitting that he ran a network of fake accounts that he used to promote various scams like a plot to smear former FBI director Robert Mueller as a rapist. Before he was banned from Twitter, he became the youngest person to ever be banned from futures trading.]

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Thomas Sheedy, president of Atheists for Liberty

Thomas Sheedy.
Thomas Sheedy.
Photo: Tom McKay (Gizmodo)

... There are some conservatives that are very socially conservative on transgender issues, people that are even in favor of transgender people having rights and, you know, calling people by the pronouns that they want. But even some people saying men are men and women are women.

And just by saying that or addressing someone by the biological pronoun they have, say, if you disagree with someone on that issue, you’re having people getting banned as a result of that quick. People with thousands upon thousands of followers with good hearts and just a difference of opinion being deplatformed from platforms that are meant to be about free discussion and open dialogue to go in with that.

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I see where you’re going with that, but that would be against the platform’s policy on misgendering people.

Right. And they’ve adopted that policy because they are biased.

Jack Hodge, attendee

I definitely see some of that with Twitter. Facebook, a while back, definitely, I saw some stuff not popping up in my newsfeed anymore that I had. You know how, like, Facebook has that thing where you can set like see post first or whatever? Right. And like, I had, you know, a handful of people that I followed set to that. And then I stopped seeing them in my newsfeed. I went back and I still had that selected. And they had been making posts. I just wasn’t seeing it.

That seems to be fixed now in the most part. So like, yeah, I mean, that definitely is something that I’ve experienced. Now, again, I’m not the most technical person on the planet but knowing that so many other people have had that experience, you know.

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Could you point to any specific examples of, like, somebody that was censored?

Yeah, Ben Shapiro was someone that I follow. I stopped seeing a lot of his posts.

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On Facebook?

Yeah, on Facebook. And I like I don’t really follow... what’s his face, Louder with Crowder. I used to, like, look at some of his stuff. I don’t really do that so much anymore. But definitely him on Twitter and Facebook. He just disappeared off the face of the earth for a little while.

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As in his account was suspended or you just didn’t see?

I don’t think it was suspended. I mean, I don’t know, maybe it was for a period of time or something. But I’m not, I’m not on Twitter enough to like to, like, know if he got suspended or not. I just know I just stopped seeing him in my newsfeed as well. So this would be like two specific cases I could think of.

I would like to say that, like, I’m not like some of the other people here. I think it’s a private company, if they want to change their rules to say that we like, you know, have a right to censor whoever, or like stop promoting someone that we don’t like, I think as a private business, they have the right to do that. It’s just if they if they say that it’s an open platform for everyone, but not really, that’s kind of what I would have issues with.

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Cathy, a woman in line for the annual Ronald Reagan Dinner

Yes, I do believe that they do censor conservative voices online.

How so? Can you point to any specific examples?

Well, I’m friends on Facebook with Live Action, and I know that they get pushed off Facebook quite often.

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Like, their account gets suspended?

Yes, yes. Or videos, they uh, their videos get blocked. Do you know who Live Action is?

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Is that abortion, uhh, anti-abortion?

Yes.

Do you know why they’re getting kicked, or?

Um... I guess because they’re pro-life, I mean.

[Live Action was banned from Pinterest for spreading conspiracy theories that vaccines are made from aborted fetuses. It has, however, complained about restrictions on running abortion-related ads on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.]

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Sebastian Gorka, former Trump adviser

Illustration for article titled I Went to CPAC to See How Conservatives Think Big Tech Is Censoring Them
Photo: Tom McKay (Gizmodo)

Go to hell. Gizmodo! You’re not a reporter. Stick your head in a bucket.

[Gorka did not respond to a follow-up inquiry as to what kind of bucket.]

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"... An upperclassman who had been researching terrorist groups online." - Washington Post

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