Trump says 'something must be done' about big tech alleged anti-conservative bias - while spending $3.5m in Facebook political ads

Andrew Buncombe

Donald Trump has accused major technology firms such as Facebook and Google of “radical left” bias – even as he is spending millions of dollars in political adverts on the platforms.

In a post on Twitter – which he also included in his accusation – the president repeated a claim he and many on the right have made before, namely that big tech companies reduce or minimise access to conservative content.

“Facebook, Google and Twitter, not to mention the Corrupt Media, are sooo on the side of the Radical Left Democrats. But fear not, we will win anyway, just like we did before,” said Mr Trump.

Later, appearing with right-wing Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro at the White House, he doubled down on his allegation, saying Twitter was “different than it used to be”. He said certain voices were not “getting through”.

“It seems to be if they’re conservative, if they’re Republicans, if they’re in a certain group there’s discrimination, and big discrimination,” he said. “We have to do something about it.”

His accusation came as Republican congressman Devin Nunes sued Twitter for $250m, claiming the site was guilty of defamation and negligence. He also alleged it had engaged in so-called “shadow banning”, in which Twitter users are able to post but no one else sees their messages. Twitter has denied doing this.

Despite Mr Trump’s attacks on the big tech companies, new data shows he is already utilising the same firms in a major way as he prepares his reelection campaign, much as he did in 2016 when spent heavily on Facebook and Google. Both platforms, along with Twitter, were targetted by fake news and accounts that US prosecutors have alleged originated in Russia.

The messages were designed to boost Mr Trump’s chances of winning, and hurt those of his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton,

On Tuesday, as Mr Trump was tweeting about the evils of big tech, data collated by the analytics and communications firm Bully Pulpit Interactive, showed the president’s 2020 campaign had spent almost nearly twice as much as the entire field of potential Democratic rivals combined.

The data showed Mr Trump had spent at least $13m in digital media since May 2018, and more than $4.5m in the first three months of 2019.

“This is an unprecedented level of investment this early, and especially from an incumbent president,” Mike Schneider, a partner at Bully Pulpit Interactive, told Axios.

“Trump’s digital sophistication was one of the most over-reported stories of the 2016 election cycle. Trump’s digital head start in the 2020 cycle is one of the most under-reported stories.”

In 2017, Facebook admitted that hundreds of fake accounts run from what was termed a Russian troll farm had spent about $100,000 on adverts during the 2016, seeking to stir up divisive issues such as race relations and gun control.

“Though we’re committed to doing everything we can to reduce the spread of false news to as close to zero as possible, we also need to make sure we take steps to address the problem when people do encounter hoaxes,” wrote Adam Mosseri, a Facebook vice president.

“To that end, we’re exploring ways to give people more context about stories so they can make more informed decisions about what to read, trust and share and ways to give people access to more perspectives about the topics that they’re reading.”

At least 470 accounts appeared to come from the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a St Petersburg-based organisation known for promoting pro-Russian government positions via fake accounts. In February of 2018, 13 Russian individuals and 3 entered – among them IRA – were indicted by Robert Mueller as part of his special counsel investigation into alleged Russian interference and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

Facebook has turned over its findings to Mr Mueller’s office, which is continuing its investigation.