President Trump Is Collecting Social-Media Grievances

The sitting president just released a new tool in his war of words with tech companies.

President-elect Donald Trump meeting with tech leaders, including the Alphabet CEO Larry Page and the Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, at Trump Tower in December 2016. (Evan Vucci / AP)

Today the White House launched a new tool to “share your story” of having your social-media account banned “if you suspect political bias caused such an action to be taken against you.”

Through a multipart questionnaire, the tool gathers personal data and then requests detailed information about “‘violations’ of user policies.” Four platforms are called out—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube—and specific URLs and usernames are also requested. The form even asks for screenshots of communications between the companies and these users.

On the one hand, this could be a cynical attempt to grab a list of aggrieved social-media users for ad-targeting purposes. We’ve seen that kind of thing before from politicians of all stripes.

On the other, this is an unprecedented extralegal step into the internal affairs of a particular industry by a sitting president. It’s one thing to enforce a set of laws that impinge on a company’s business. It’s another to collect grievances outside any legal framework.

In any case, it’s another ratcheting up of President Donald Trump’s beef with the very social-media companies that enabled his rise, but whose founders don’t share his beliefs. Trump’s vaunted success on Facebook and Twitter might be taken as evidence that tech companies have done very little to police speech and/or actively promoted right-wing voices—common positions on the left. The rightists’ position is more complicated: They can easily point to the predominant left-leaning personal views of tech-company workers. But when Fox News dominates Facebook, how skewed could the platform really be?

Nonetheless, in a recent poll, 83 percent of self-identified Republicans thought the tech companies were biased against conservatives.

Since the tool is new, no one knows what will be sent to the White House, but it sure seems likely that this is a new headache-generating mechanism that the president can use in his ongoing campaign to, in the site’s words, “advance FREEDOM OF SPEECH” by putting pressure on the social-media platforms where the world communicates.