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Trump's Social Media Bias Survey Is a Craven Data Collection Ploy

The survey is an elaborate way of getting people to subscribe to the White House's email list.

by Matthew Gault
May 17 2019, 2:54pm

Image: White House/Flickr

After months of posturing on Twitter about “censorship” and a perceived “anti-conservative bias” on social media the White House is asking Americans to report to the administration if they feel they’ve been censored by big tech companies. The survey asks respondents to fill out a form giving the White House their name, phone number, email address, social media accounts, and an explanation of how you feel you were censored.

“We want to keep you posted on President Trump's fight for free speech,” the survey says at the end. “Can we add you to our email newsletters so we can update you without relying on platforms like Facebook and Twitter?” The form also asks users to agree to the White House’s privacy policy, which states that, by submitting the information, you “grant the U.S. Government a license to use, edit, display, publish, broadcast, transmit, post, or otherwise distribute all or part of the Content. The license you grant is irrevocable and valid in perpetuity, throughout the world, and in all forms of media.”

If this whole enterprise feels shady, that’s because it is.

“It’s massively opaque. It came out of nowhere,” Alex Howard, a digital governance expert, founder of the information technology blog e-pluribusunum.org, and former senior analyst at the open government advocacy group the Sunlight Foundation, said. “You have an administration, setting up a web form with no rules beyond the ones that have been set in its own ‘user agreements.' A lack of clarity in terms of what exactly will happen because of it or as a result. It should be laughable, but it’s not. Because they’re abusing their power and shaping our public discourse by advancing a false narrative. That’s despite this being a dumb web form.”

It’s also not clear where the data is stored or who has access to it. The site isn’t even hosted on a government server, but was created with Typeform, a Spain-based web tool that lets anyone set up simple surveys.

“It’s not at all clear what this feeds into, aside from trying to create what looks like a biased set of data which would support the President’s conspiracy theory about about people having their viewpoints censored by a private technology company based upon their politics,” Howard said. “That’s a misuse of official power and resources. The term of art for that is corruption.”