The White House released a new tool this week which invites internet users to share their experiences of having been suspended, banned or reported on social media platforms: “if you suspect political bias caused such an action to be taken against you, share your story with President Trump.”
The new website – which was promptly dubbed “Donald Trump’s snitching tool” – clearly takes the victim narrative that has been spread by conservative online personages and amplified by the Tweeter-in-Chief for quite some time to a whole new level. The way it is designed, it also opens the door to all kinds of abuses.
First of all, the White House’s new digital complaint form collects an astounding amount of information from everyone who wishes to air their grievances, including people’s first and last name, zip code, phone number and of course their social media username along with the name of the platform on which the perceived biased treatment took place. Somewhere along the way, users are also invited to submit their email address so that they can receive newsletters keeping them updated on “President Trump’s fight for free speech”.
Ironically, it’s probably a safe bet that quite a lot of the people who will be happy to enter all their data on this particular government site are also people who like to take to social media to say that they would rather start a revolution than allow the government to keep a national database that tracks gun ownership. It is also not unlikely that the personal information submitted here will make its way into the database of the Trump re-election campaign to be used in the campaign’s efforts to recruit and mobilize donors and voters, old and new.
Then, there is the User Agreement participants have to sign which requires them to essentially give up all their rights to the content they submit and grants the government a license to “use, edit, display, publish, broadcast, transmit, post, or otherwise distribute all or part of the Content (including edited, composite, or derivative works made therefrom).” In other words, the administrators of the website, “including, but not limited to the Executive Office of the President,” can get creative and use the information, photos and texts that they receive via the site in whichever way they choose. On the basis of the gathered material, a skillful editor could for example create an impressive collage of real-life conservative users that were banned from social media without revealing the precise nature of the posts that caused the ban, thus perpetuating the narrative of people being censored based purely on their political leanings.
The White House’s tech bias sharing tool purports to invite all internet users – “no matter your views” – to submit their stories but I wonder what happens to the data of people who are clearly discernible as liberal or even anti-Trump. Can we rule out that there is a list of Enemies of the People that is being fed from the website? This would have sounded like a crazy conspiracy theory not so very long ago but it feels like it’s in the realm of the possible now.