This week, Republican senatorial candidate and staunch Second Amendment defender Austin Petersen found himself banned from Facebook after posting a video promoting the right to self-defense. While in front of an American flag, Austin expressed conservative viewpoints, relayed his concerns regarding his opponents’ stance on self-defense rights, and discussed a firearm raffle. To be clear, the only firearm present in the video was a subpar drawing he made of one. Although the video didn’t violate any laws or Facebook policies, shortly after the video went viral, Austin received a notification from Facebook informing him that a decision had been made to ban him. Assuming Facebook isn’t in the business of judging art, one might question if it was the articulation of conservative views that the platform deemed cause for censorship.
Tuesday marked the second time during Austin’s campaign for U.S. Senate that a major component of his campaign platform was subject to censorship and as a result, communicating with voters and supporters was prohibited. The first time occurred less than six months ago after he posted a compliant video in which a firearm was on display. During the video, just as he did this week, Austin explained a crucial part of his campaign platform to voters, advocated for the right to self-defense, and discussed a firearm raffle. Facebook removed the status update on Austin’s profile containing the video, presumably because they believed other users shouldn't view the video. However, Facebook had no issue placing the same video that got Austin banned into users’ news feeds as a paid advertisement. The perceived double standard caused some conservatives to cry foul on the legitimacy of the censorship, including Austin.
Although Facebook’s administrators could silence Austin from voicing his concerns to users on their platform, they couldn’t restrict him from expressing his opinions to their Chief Executive Officer, Mark Zuckerberg elsewhere. Austin penned an open-letter to the CEO explaining the events that took place and that he was being subjected to punishment in the form of censorship. He conveyed that it was difficult to ignore the timing of the action as it came during a period of “heightened tension” regarding Facebook’s role in elections and the platform’s “perceived bias against conservative voices.” Austin also questioned Facebook’s neutrality by stating that Chief Operating Office Sheryl Sandberg, had “leaned into” his election by donating the maximum allowable amount to his opponent. The story made the media rounds, and Austin was let out of “Facebook jail” weeks early, presumably for anything but good behavior while banned. Even though Austin’s battle with Facebook has lasted nearly his entire campaign cycle, it pales in comparison to the censorship war that fellow conservative Dennis Prager has endured for almost two years.
In direct response to the lack of a clear and consistent rationale for the censorship, PragerU conducted an analysis comparing banned PragerU videos to videos on similar topics by other speakers. The results were eye-opening. Videos containing liberal or left-wing commentary were labeled appropriate, and videos containing conservative perspectives were labeled “inappropriate.” YouTube viewers were able to access liberal viewpoints from commentators such as Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher on specific issues but weren’t able to access conservative perspectives from PragerU on those same issues. For many conservatives, it seems the only thing PragerU videos didn’t comply with was YouTube’s political agenda. Not only did Dennis not comply with YouTube’s alleged political agenda, but he refused to sit down and shut up. On October 23, 2017, Dennis filed a lawsuit on behalf of PragerU against both YouTube and Google for unlawful censorship violating both the California and United States Constitutions.
Now more than ever conservatives are being censored without explanation and seemingly for the beliefs they hold. Austin and Dennis are just two examples of the countless conservatives who are not only prohibited from sharing their views but punished for doing so. This type of censorship sets a dangerous precedent that if left unchallenged could result in the lack of conservative ideology from political discourse, ultimately undermining American democratic values. As author Lois Lowry once cautioned, submitting to censorship is to enter a world “where choice has been taken away and reality distorted. And that is the most dangerous world of all.”