Washington • President Donald Trump took aim at Twitter on Thursday, accusing the social media company of a “discriminatory and illegal practice” that has resulted in limiting the visibility of prominent Republicans in search results.
Republicans have been up in arms since Vice News reported Wednesday that, as a result of a technique known as “shadow banning,” Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and several conservative GOP congressman were no longer appearing in an auto-populated drop-down search box.
“Twitter ‘SHADOW BANNING’ prominent Republicans. Not good,” Trump wrote to his 53 million Twitter followers. “We will look into this discriminatory and illegal practice at once! Many complaints.”
A Twitter spokesman declined to comment Thursday morning on the president's tweet.
The social media company has said that it is aware that some accounts are not automatically populating in the search box and is working to address the issue.
In a tweet Wednesday, Kayvon Beykpour, head of product for Twitter, said that the company was not targeting Republicans and that it is working to alter its usage of “behavior signals” that inform its search results.
“To be clear, our behavioral ranking doesn’t make judgements based on political views or the substance of tweets,” Beykpour said.
Vice News reported that Democrats, including some of the party's most liberal members, were not being "shadow banned" in the same way, according to a review by the publication.
In the wake of the report, McDaniel and other Republicans have castigated Twitter.
"The notion that social media companies would suppress certain political points of view should concern every American," McDaniel said Wednesday. "Twitter owes the public answers to what's really going on."
Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, also weighed in, sending a tweet Wednesday that said: “So now @Twitter is censoring @GOPChairwoman? Enough is enough with this crap.”
The president’s tweet Thursday could create new political headaches for Twitter and its tech peers in Silicon Valley, which have faced months of accusations — from the highest echelons of the Republican Party — that they are biased against conservatives.
Even though Trump is arguably Twitter's most prominent user, right-leaning users still contend that they are being unfairly targeted, censored and suspended compared to their liberal counterparts.
The accusations have even made their way into some Republicans' election-year pitches to voters: California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who is angling to become speaker of the House next year, has run ads on Facebook that fundraise around allegations of anti-conservative bias on social media.
Twitter itself has admitted mistakes, even apologizing after an incident in 2017 in which it initially banned a congresswoman from promoting a tweeted video that discussed abortion. But the company has stressed repeatedly that it seeks to apply its policies even-handedly.
"Our success as a company depends on making Twitter a safe space for free expression," said Nick Pickles, a policy aide who testified on behalf of Twitter at a congressional hearing on alleged anti-conservative bias earlier this month.
Meanwhile, Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey has sought to defuse tensions with conservatives through a series of private gatherings with conservative leaders.
His trip to the nation’s capital in June, for example, included a dinner with Mercedes Schlapp, one of Trump’s top aides, and Greta Van Susteren, a former Fox News host, sources previously told The Washington Post. Some in attendance told Dorsey that they felt conservatives had been painted in a negative light on the site’s Moments feature, which tracks national stories and issues. Others raised fears of shadow-banning.