December 09, 2020
By Keith Wood
There are 2.7-billion Facebook users in the world, and 190 million reside in the U.S. A billion people use Instagram, which is also owned by Facebook. Two-billion individuals use Google-owned YouTube and Twitter has 330-million users worldwide. Contrast those numbers with traditional news sources: Primetime broadcast viewership caps out at around 6 million on any given network. Given these numbers, and the success of social media algorithms in capturing our attention, the Big Three social-media platforms are the most influential information sources — ever. And that unprecedented influence is being wielded against the 2nd Amendment and all of us.
Comic-writer Stan Lee popularized a principle in the “Spider-Man” series: “With great power comes great responsibility.” In the context of social media, that statement might be more aptly described as “With great power, comes great manipulation.” Social-media platforms have the ability to determine what information individuals are receiving as well as the ability to censor its content. Seventy percent of the videos watched on YouTube, for example, are selected for the user by the supercomputers that powers the site — they are not chosen by the users themselves. Hence, social-media outlets have the power to alter the narrative and shape human thought, which is a scary prospect.
Tristan Harris, a former Google-design ethicist, and one of the most powerful voices highlighting the abuses of big tech, told a U.S. Senate committee “With more than a billion hours watched daily, [social media] takes control of what we believe, while discriminating against our civility, our shared truth, and our calm.”
According to the Center for Humane Technology, “social media platforms are incentivized to amplify the most engaging content, tilting public attention towards polarizing and often misleading content. By selling microtargeting to the highest bidder, they enable manipulative practices that undermine democracies around the world.” The opinions of entire populations are being swayed by powerful outlets that can alter the narrative to meet their own political or financial ends. Lies travel faster than the truth. Though two recent studies have claimed to debunk the theory that conservative content is censored more heavily than more progressive messages, our own anecdotal research has indicated that pro-gun individuals and companies are increasingly being targeted by the social media giants.
Firearms enthusiasts, influencers and even product manufacturers have seen their accounts and individual content blocked by Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for seemingly innocuous posts and statements.
Alexander Spanopoulos is a strategy consultant and entrepreneur who recently launched a company called Arrowhead Tactical Apparel (ATA). ATA was created as a brand that provides concealed carry clothing. He said, “I wanted to create the most comfortable way to carry concealed that was completely safe, that preserved the wearer’s draw position, and that supported holstered handguns of any size or weight, not just subcompacts.” ATA’s pants were an immediate success that quickly expanded to include additional product lines. He credits much of that success to social media.
“We had a booming Instagram community,” Spanopoulos told Guns & Ammo. “Our community was highly engaged, responsive, and thriving. Then we got ‘Zucked.’”
On October 20, 2020, with no communication or warning, ATA’s social media accounts went dark. Spanopoulos made multiple support requests through Facebook in an effort to solve the problem, but he received no information as to why ATA was removed from both Facebook and Instagram.
“We don’t sell weapons, we sell clothing,” Spanopoulos said. “Our posts and ads merely highlighted the features and benefits of our products. We were staying well away from anything that would be problematic. If you dip a pinky toe into the grey area of wrongthink though, big tech loves to come down on you. It’s their platform, and they can do whatever they want, but that won’t stop us from calling a spade a spade.”
Retired U.S. Army Special Forces Sergeant Major Mike Glover owns Fieldcraft Survival. He, too, has experienced tech censorship. SGM Glover spent a career serving the Special Operations community before launching his company in 2015 to train individuals and teams in outdoor survival, marksmanship, land navigation and emergency medicine.
“I wanted to offer civilians training in self-defense, situational awareness, mindset — all aspects of modern survival,” Glover said. “I thought citizens could benefit from learning the process, planning and attention to detail that I learned in Special Operations. Our mission statement is to make everyday civilians better prepared for the worst-case scenario.”
After witnessing first responders being ordered to stand down in the face of widespread civil unrest in places like Seattle and Portland in 2020, Glover founded American Contingency as a resource for citizens. “I advocate that you are your own first response. When I saw law enforcement officers fail to respond to calls for help, I decided to take the lead in giving people a path to becoming better prepared.”
Not long after its formation, American Contingency saw its social media accounts shut down.
Glover and his organization were branded as racist and alt-right extremists, which is blatantly untrue. Glover has publicly opposed extremism.
“We lost our Facebook, Instagram and Discord accounts,” said Glover. “Not only our organizational accounts, but all of our personal accounts as well. Every single person that was affiliated with American Contingency, thousands of them, lost their accounts. They even shut down my mom’s business account because she had reposted something. She owns a salon.”
Glover’s Fieldcraft Survival accounts, which focus on preparedness are politically neutral, but they were also suppressed. And, unfortunately, it didn’t end there.
“With no explanation or warning, our Shopify business account that grosses millions of dollars and supports my 30-plus employees was deleted,” Glover added. “We lost all of the data from our website and had to start from scratch. The fact that people’s livelihoods and the things they’ve worked hard for are being mass-deleted, that’s obviously problematic. I want to make myself believe that these are random acts of suppression, but they’re not. It looks to be very deliberate.”
As a small business owner trying to protect his employees, Glover began searching for options that wouldn’t censor or cancel his content. So, he migrated all of his content to an application called “Locals.” At americancontingency.locals.com, he and his team are providing educational content as well as real-time intelligence that will help users avoid trouble spots in their area. This information is delivered without bias.
In addition to these blatant examples of suppression, there are also subtle methods of canceling ideas. Beyond the blocking of accounts and posts, social media outlets often use more subtle techniques to prevent firearm-related content from reaching users. It’s a practice known as “shadow banning.”
“I see it constantly,” Tim Kennedy, U.S. Army Special Forces and mixed martial artist told G&A. “I reliably cultivate 2,000 followers per day on my social media platforms. When I post something firearms or 2A-related, I find myself in the penalty box. Like clockwork, my number of followers freezes for 30 days. When I’m being shadow banned, you can’t search for my pages or content, and my hashtags don’t work. It is blatant censorship.”
Thanks to such censorship, many firearms enthusiasts are fleeing the traditional social media platforms and using less-restrictive outlets including Parler and YouTube. Parler advertises itself as a place where users can “speak freely and express yourself openly, without any fear of being ‘deplatformed’ for your views.” It is a private-sector solution to a real problem in the marketplace of ideas. There are downsides, though, according to Kennedy. “Parler is great, but it can be an echo chamber for conservatives just as Twitter is for progressives. I want to reach individuals who don’t agree with me, which means that I need to be where they congregate. That means Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.”
Social media censorship is a real problem. To be clear, this is not a First Amendment issue. Constitutional freedoms only apply to government action. Private companies such as Facebook can stifle free speech as they see fit, but it doesn’t make it right. Nor does it mean that our nation’s leaders can’t play a role in reigning-in these abuses, which reach beyond the firearms community.
“Government’s job is to protect citizens,” former Google-employee Tristan Harris said. “I tried to change Google from the inside, but I found that it’s only been through external pressure — from government policymakers, shareholders and media — that has changed companies’ behavior.”
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