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Hawley praises Trump Jr. op-ed, promotes conservative censorship conspiracy

Missouri's new senator endorsed Donald Trump Jr.'s call for more regulation of technology companies.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), looking at President Donald Trump at a September 2018 rally.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) this week celebrated an op-ed by the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., and called for conservatives to crack down on "Big Tech" over a string of right-wing "censorship" conspiracies. (PHOTO CREDIT: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Missouri Republican Josh Hawley presented himself as a “constitutional conservative” committed to “fighting for the people’s liberties” in his 2018 campaign for U.S. Senate. But on Monday, he endorsed Donald Trump Jr.’s call for action to force private tech companies to protect and privilege conservative hate speech on their platforms.

“@DonaldTrumpJr. nails it. Time for conservatives to stand up to #BigTech,” he wrote.

Hawley, who has previously pushed to punish giants like Google and Twitter for perceived slights to conservatives by taking away the liability protections they and other common carriers receive, tweeted a link to an op-ed by the president’s son published by The Hill on Sunday.

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Trump Jr. — who in theory is busily running his father’s companies and staying out of politics — wrote that “our love of the free market dictates” that conservatives “must do whatever is necessary to ensure” that tech companies do nothing to restrict even the most dangerous rhetoric from their platforms. He also repeated a litany of disproven conspiracy theories about “shadowbans” of conservative users and about YouTube’s limitations on how much money Trump supporters can make through their videos.

Trump Jr. suggested, for example, that Facebook’s “stealth censorship was specifically aimed at conservatives.” However, this popular right-wing talking point has never been proven and all of the major tech companies have repeatedly denied any anti-conservative bias. Prominent conservative figures like the pro-Trump activists known as “Diamond and Silk” have notably seen less of a drop since the social media site changed its algorithms than many left-leaning content providers.

While Trump Jr.’s op-ed complains that “social media censorship can quickly lead to banishment from such fundamental services as transportation, online payments and banking,” he neglects to acknowledge that these restrictions have been made to white nationalists and neo-Nazis, rather than garden variety conservatives.

The op-ed also quotes comments Hawley made on the topic earlier this month at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). There, Hawley proposed that “Google and Facebook should not be a law unto themselves,” and argued the tech behemoths “should not be able to discriminate against conservatives. They should not be able to tell us we need to sit down and shut up!”

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It is particularly noteworthy that Hawley and Trump Jr. are claiming online censorship days after an alleged white nationalist killed 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The suspected gunman in that attack was reportedly inspired by online far-right postings, and platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube struggled to remove violent video of the shootings originally posted by the gunman and later reposted by far right trolls celebrating the incident.

A report from the social media tracking company NewsWhip also noted last week that recent changes to Facebook’s algorithm have actually led to increased engagement on posts by conservative outlets like Fox News and, among the less mainstream sites, LifeZette and Breitbart. Misleading articles from right-wing sites like The Daily Signal and LifeNews were also listed among the most-commented and most-shared news stories, according to Nieman Lab.

This article has been updated with additional information from Nieman Lab regarding the promotion of conservative news stories on Facebook, and to correct the number of victims in the Christchurch shooting to 50.