National Religious Broadcasters has launched an online effort seeking to highlight what it says is censorship of Christian and conservative speech by online media giants such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and Apple.
"It is unacceptable for these titans to discriminate against users just because their viewpoints are not congruent with ideas popular in Silicon Valley," said Jerry A. Johnson, NRB's president & CEO, on Thursday when announcing the Internet Freedom Watch initiative.
The website for the initiative, which documents cases of alleged censorship, states that "chillingly, a growing censorship of Christian and politically conservative viewpoints on the internet is happening in America and across the globe."
"Major players in Silicon Valley with enormous influence over what is seen on the internet and on social media platforms are suppressing viewpoints that run counter to their preferred ideologies."
NRB is calling on hearings in Congress to address the "severe problem of viewpoint censorship on the internet."
The initiative has been praised by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who in a panel discussion at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Thursday said that every day more Americans are "getting their political news not from pieces of paper, not from their televisions, but online from social media."
"One of the biggest shifts that has occurred in recent years is the focus of power in media is no longer New York City. It's Silicon Valley," Cruz said. "And Silicon Valley has the ability to put a thumb on the scale in a far more subtle and insidious way."
He alleged that Google search results often suppress conservative views, while liberal articles that support the views of the tech companies "magically bubble to the top."
Johnson further called on social media platforms "to afford their users nothing less than the free speech and free exercise of religion rights embodied in the First Amendment as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court."
Ralph Reed, chairman and CEO of Century Strategies, said that "it is critical for Christians and others of faith to be able to share their faith in an unfettered way without fear of persecution, harassment, blocking or discrimination."
While the social media giants have faced various accusations over the years of suppressing free speech when it comes to conservatives, they have consistently denied that that is the case.
YouTube for instance enacted a new advertiser-friendly strategy in March that gives more control to brands over where their ads show up on the online video sharing platform. Supporters of President Donald Trump have complained that their videos have been unfairly demonetized.
A YouTube spokesperson explained to The Christian Post in September that "we asked creators across the platform to appeal any video that they felt was incorrectly classified by our automated systems. No system is perfect and every appeal helps our systems get smarter over time."
"Sometimes our systems get it wrong, which is why we've posted several blogs and in-product notices suggesting creators appeal if they feel we made a mistake," the spokesperson added.
"Channels of all types — gamers, vloggers, political channels on the right and left — have successfully appealed demonetizations."
Craig Strazzeri, chief marketing officer for PragerU, a conservative, educational nonprofit that says it reaches millions of people every day on the internet with its videos, argued at the National Press Club event, however, that YouTube has placed several of its videos on "restricted mode" access.
The mode is only supposed to block violent, sexual, pornographic content, he noted, yet it has been used to restrict access to more than 40 of its videos to date, some under the titles "Why did America fight the Korean War," "Israel's Legal Founding," and "The need of diversity of thought at college campuses."
Despite being in constant communication with YouTube over the past year and a half, even visiting their offices in New York, Strazzeri said that the social media giant has not only refused to lift the restrictions, but has argued that its staff has reviewed the material and deemed it inappropriate for young people.
Calling it "ideological discrimination," Strazzeri said that "this kind of censorship is what we've seen on college campuses for years, but it's far more dangerous in the circumstance, because the internet is where the world goes to get information."
In September, conservative climate change blog Watts Up With That posted a research report claiming that "Google Search is found to be biased in favor of left/liberal domains and against conservative domains with a confidence of 95 percent."
The report also positioned that while certain "conservative domains are blacklisted," the good standing of "hard-Left domains" in search results "raises suspicions that they have been hand-picked for prominent placement."
A Google spokesman told CP, however, that Google has "never re-ranked search results to manipulate political or user sentiment."
"We always strive to provide our users with the most useful, authoritative and relevant answers to their queries," the Google representative added.
In July, millions of Catholics worldwide were affected after Facebook suddenly closed more than two dozen Catholic pages, some that have massive followings.
Facebook restored the pages following an outcry, and blamed a "spam detection tool" for the error.