In 2017, I had the privilege of visiting the U.S.-Mexico border as a reporter for The Daily Signal. It’s something that anyone with a public platform who comments on immigration and border policy should do. Among those I met with and interviewed were members of the Department of Homeland Security’s Horse Patrol Unit in San Diego. Horseback was a method of patrolling the border that I didn’t know about prior to my trip. Figuring that many others didn’t either, we produced a video.
In the San Diego sector, agents are partnered with the same horse for three years, during which they establish a strong bond and treat their horses as the partners they are. The U.S. Border Patrol was founded on horseback in 1924, and the video we produced pays homage to that. Far from controversial, our video sat mostly idle after publishing in 2017. Until last week, when Twitter censored it.
After a photo and accompanying video went viral showing a Border Patrol agent on horseback allegedly “whipping” Haitian migrants, The Daily Signal re-shared the video on Twitter in an effort to add context to the important role horses play in helping Border Patrol agents secure the border. Instead of showing the video in the tweet as it should, some users saw this warning: “The following media includes potentially sensitive content.”
Twitter’s warning had the effect of suppressing video views and cutting off a significant contribution to the conversation that was occurring in real-time about border security and President Joe Biden’s border crisis. It robbed the public of an opportunity to learn more about the Border Patrol’s horseback unit before participating in a smear campaign against an agent just trying to do his job.
Worse, slapping a ‘sensitive content’ label on a harmless video sent a message to Twitter users that our report featured violent or upsetting content that might have supported the narrative that Border Patrol agents act inappropriately. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Paul Ratje, the photographer behind viral photos of agents on horseback, has since corrected the record, stating, “I’ve never seen [Border Patrol agents] whip anyone,” and that his photos are being “misconstrued.”
While Twitter chose to censor The Daily Signal’s 2017 video, users can still find uncensored tweets spreading the debunked claim that border patrol agents were “rounding up Haitian refugees with whips.” They can also find viral clips of politicians such as Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., making the outlandish claim that the fake whipping incident was “worse than what we witnessed in slavery.” And they can still watch videos of Biden’s doubling down on the fake news story, saying, “there will be consequences,” and that those border patrol agents “will pay.” None of these tweets were flagged by Twitter with the platform’s “misleading information” or “disputed claims” labels.
Before stirring up outrage over another case of Big Tech censorship, The Heritage Foundation reached out to Twitter and asked for an explanation. (The Daily Signal is the multimedia news organization at The Heritage Foundation.)
“Twitter initially denied censoring the video,” Heritage said. But on Monday afternoon, Twitter “changed its story, saying the video was indeed flagged but refus[ed] to say why or whether the censoring was the result of an algorithm or if human error was involved.”
As Rob Bluey, vice president of communications at Heritage and executive editor of The Daily Signal said, “The Daily Signal produced this video in 2017 — four years before the Biden border crisis — to educate Americans about the important role of horses in the Border Patrol’s work. Yet now, when such information conflicts with the left’s preferred narrative, Twitter’s censorship police stepped in with a flagrant case of anti-conservative bias.”
In most cases of Big Tech censorship, the content in question at least involves something controversial. In this case, the video could not be more innocuous. The only controversial aspect was the context in which the video was shared, following the explosion of the debunked “whips” story.
While hardly surprising, the double standard is revealing: Twitter censored The Daily Signal’s 2017 fact-based video highlighting the work of mounted Border Patrol agents, but allowed the smearing of Border Patrol agents to spread on its platform with no warnings or corrections.
“These lies and smears against the men and women of the Border Patrol are disgusting, and it’s completely unacceptable that companies like Twitter are helping advance those lies by censoring the truth,” said Mark Morgan, former acting CBP commissioner and Heritage visiting fellow.
Twitter enjoys certain legal protections for hosting user-published content on its platform. Some conservatives want to amend these protections because social media companies moderate too much content and are often biased in the way they do it. Some liberals want to reform them because they believe platforms aren’t doing enough to crack down on harmful misinformation. In this case, Twitter censored fact-based conservative content while opting not to correct harmful misinformation.
Twitter’s warning labels claim to protect the public from sensitive content, misinformation, and lies. But in this case, Big Tech joined Big Media and Big Government in perpetuating falsehoods and suppressing the truth.
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