WASHINGTON—Students feel they can’t express themselves properly on social media because of big tech censorship and, for some, the fear of being bullied into silence, with many experiencing or witnessing some form of shadow banning—the surreptitious suppression of a user’s content by the platform.
Students at Turning Point USA’s Teen Student Action Summit reported encountering such suppression on social media platforms, including Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, on July 24, the third day of the summit, in interviews with The Epoch Times. Students came from across the country to hear from the numerous conservative leaders and politicians speaking at the Marriott Marquis hotel.
The median age of the more than 1,000 high school and college students in attendance was 16 years old. President Donald Trump had given an hourlong speech to them the day before, speaking at length about the growing radical left and praised young conservatives for sticking with their values.
Censorship and free speech are key themes that conservative students brought up at the summit.
The Trump administration launched a survey in May asking people if they felt they were being discriminated against for their political views on social media platforms. The survey site, which has since been closed, now states that “too many Americans have seen their accounts suspended, banned, or fraudulently reported for unclear ‘violations’ of user policies.” The White House said it received thousands of responses.
Chase Claussen, 17, California
“Whenever I’m looking at YouTube, trying to find conservative content, it’s very hard. You can only find a select portion of it. I don’t post a lot of conservative stuff on my social media, but one of my good friends that is here, his Instagram has 3,000 followers, and he totally got shadow banned just for posting a picture that he was at TP USA. When you go look at his Instagram, it says, ‘This user doesn’t exist.’ He posted a video of a compilation of stuff going on at TP USA. About an hour later, he gets totally shadow banned—no one can follow his account anymore. It was just a temporary thing, but still, it was just totally biased.
“In today’s age, social media is the way a lot of young kids get all of their information, because of all the time they spend on it. So when you’re being that biased and banning that many things from social media, it becomes a big problem, because people are just going to believe what they see on social media. If they don’t see the counter-argument, it’s going to be very easy to slip into the leftist hole, kind of. Free speech should never be infringed upon, especially from these social media companies.”
Abigail Raines, 17, Chicago
“I am worried about censorship. I don’t want my free speech to be taken over. I’ve seen it firsthand with accounts that I follow. Instagram, that’s the main one I use, and I’ve seen a lot of videos of people trying to follow and like pictures, and they can’t because they are being censored. I have experienced this myself. I think it’s a really big problem; it’s really dampening our free speech. I don’t think they should be able to do that.”
Alex Arbaiza, 18, North Carolina
“I do think we are being censored—I think with shadow banning. It’s come out with Project Veritas, and it’s real. You can see Donald Trump Jr., he’s posted and I’ve tried it myself sometimes—you can’t like his pictures, you can’t follow him. Even the president himself. Free speech is under attack on these platforms, because if you post something that’s even remotely conservative, you get death threats, you get bullied into silence, and that’s the same thing on these college campuses. The free speech culture is under attack by the radical left.
“We have a champion of free speech in the president of the U.S., and he is taking all the hits for us, and it’s our turn to fight back, to speak up and to show them young students can be conservatives. I myself am a Hispanic conservative and I’m proud of it. This censorship is rampant, beyond what we probably even know; there’s a reason why even leftists want to take down these big tech companies, because they know how powerful they are. They said Prager University is a Nazi, Jordan Peterson was a Nazi, Ben Shapiro a Nazi—are you kidding me? A Jewish man? We are going to uncover it all.”
Josh Raziyev, 17, New York City
“I don’t usually get political on my social media pages, but I know of major prominent conservative figures—even Dave Rubin, who’s known as a liberal—who have been silenced, whose posts are taken down. … Many in the conservative movement can’t give their opinion on certain issues because it doesn’t coincide with how big tech views the world, and it’s a big problem.
“This goes from the establishment down, and it affects modern-day conservatives, young conservatives, and even establishment conservatives, and at this point, it’s getting to the point where we can’t speak because we are going to get silenced every single time, whether its on social media, on college campuses, or in high schools.”
Bryn Edwards, Georgia
“I don’t feel like I’m censored, but I feel a bunch of the people I follow are censored for no reason. They post something like an opinion that they have, and it will get taken down for no reason. There was a post from a page I followed, and it was about abortion, and it was not graphic, it didn’t say anything graphic, and it got taken down because Instagram is like that. It’s definitely important, and we should be able to express ourselves. We should say what we want and not get censored for it.”