PragerU Does Not Understand Censorship

Or how to use Google.


PragerU, the prolifically popular creator of conservative video content run by radio host Dennis Prager, claims that it is being censored by big tech. The organization took to Twitter to announce that the platform had banned it from running ads.

Except that's not actually censorship. Far from it: A quick glance at the company's Twitter feed shows that it uses the platform to great advantage, with hundreds of thousands of followers and a bevy of tweets that drive mega-engagement. If PragerU was actually "censored" by Twitter, they would not have a Twitter platform at all.

The nonprofit, which is also prohibited from advertising on Spotify, has argued that such bans violate their right to free speech. But Twitter's advertising policies have nothing to do with the First Amendment, which protects PragerU from government action—not from the decisions of a private company.

"The @PragerU Twitter Ads account is ineligible to advertise on the Twitter Ads platform due to repeated violation of our Twitter Ads policies. The account may, however, continue to tweet organically as long as it complies with the Twitter Rules," a Twitter spokesperson told Fox News last month.

PragerU also has a beef with Google. Bizarrely, the conservative video-maker has accused the company of rigging internet search results to reflect poorly on PragerU.

Except that's not how Google searches actually work. The tech company's autocomplete component considers the search history of each user as well as trending topics and produces suggestions accordingly. For instance, I did a "PragerU" search on my laptop using an incognito browser, which scrubbed my history for a clean search. The Google results I received were much more favorable to PragerU—a testament to the dynamic nature of the search function which changes based on what people are talking about. In other words, there is no Google conspiracy here.

Regrettably, such clear evidence probably won't convince Prager himself, who recently appeared before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution to put Google on full-blast for—you guessed it—censorship.

"I promise you, one day you will say, first they came after conservatives, and I said nothing," said Prager, a reference the famous post-Holocaust poem by Martin Niemöller. "And then they came after me—and there was no one left to speak up for me."

But instead of complaining about the actions of private companies, Prager should educate himself about what censorship actually means.

*UPDATE: This article has been updated to include additional information on how Google produces search suggestions as well as on PragerU's past statements about free speech.

NEXT: Penn Law Should Not Fire Amy Wax

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. So many conservatives don’t understand the technology. But in their defense, neither do the progressives.

    1. Says the asshole who cant bother to read an 11 page 24 font bill.

    2. Better headline:
      Billy Binion Does Not Understand Censorship
      Or basic honesty.

      If PragerU was actually “censored” by Twitter, they would not have a Twitter platform at all.
      Billy prevaricates here using fallacious reasoning. It’s far more preferable for Twitter management to silence voices they oppose, by hiding them, than by banning them outright. Too many legal and PR risks otherwise.
      Of course Billy knows he’s lying, so he doubles down by saying Prager violated Twitter policies without giving the examples to back up Twitter’s weasely claims.
      Then, as the cherry on top, Billy pretends Google techs don’t deliberately and regularly fiddle with its algorithms to suit management’s sociopolitical goals, even though they’ve been caught doing just that innumerable times.

      You’re a dishonest little monkey, aren’t you, Billy Binion.

      1. Yes yes and more yes!

    3. An online Magazine called Reason has an author write an article that is totally void of reason. He is only pushing an agenda of private companies, even though they are a monopoly in every REASONABLE sense, should be allowed to do anything they want. This is of course unreasonable. I am old enough to remember the real definition of reason.

    4. BILLY BINION is an assistant editor who is far left and writes opinion articles for us to be click bated into reading his lousy biased opinion.

  2. Get the fuck off Twitter and Facebook. Damn. It’s not hard.

  3. It’s time we stop acting like social media is the revolutionary and all-powerful forum of public discord, thereby withdrawing the substantial influence we have given these companies over the past years. It’s just an online forum. Relax.

    1. We didn’t used to act like that. Around 1996 that all changed for some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on.

  4. “The @PragerU Twitter Ads account is ineligible to advertise on the Twitter Ads platform due to repeated violation of our Twitter Ads policies. The account may, however, continue to tweet organically as long as it complies with the Twitter Rules,” a Twitter spokesperson told Fox News last month.

    What was the violation?

    1. I wonder if that Twitter Spokesperson was the same spokesperson who got so tangled up in her own underwear trying to defend their infuriatingly inconsistent and vague TOS that she made Robert Mueller look like Winston Churchill.

    2. What was the violation?

      Not being a member of the hardcore progressive left.

    3. Billy Binion doesn’t care. If it’s a private company, it can do whatever it wants!

      1. I mean, it IS a private company so it kinda can.

        1. Yeah a private company in the united states founded on our constitution! Follow the law of the land and don’t manipulate what the people see. It’s the internet, not daytime tv.

  5. I mean, it might not technically be censorship, but didn’t we just find out that Google DOES push a narrative? That they could have affected, what, 2.5 million votes last election? If the narrative they’re pushing effects how Prager gets seen, I wouldn’t say that is completely wrong either

  6. “The First Amendment protects PragerU from government action, not from the decisions of a private company.” This argument is so tiresome. Google and Twitter aren’t “government,” but such widespread public platforms that are essentially monopolies aren’t in any meaningful sense “private” either, and should not be allowed to engage in viewpoint discrimination.

    1. Bake my cake!

      1. We the people, through our representative legislature, granted tech corporations special protection from liabilities in exchange for those corporations providing open access to a place for free information exchange and social spaces/networking.
        We’ve held up our end of the deal: Google, Facebook, Twitter don’t have to face civil suits based on the content they host/transmit.
        What do we get out of the deal?
        The justification for 230 is that special protection from suit is necessary to allow providers to not have to get and micromanage user content. Such is the value we placed on free expression.
        Despite the motivation inherent in the passage of a law freeing providers from responsibility for hosting free expression, these providers have chosen to micromanage content and limit freedom of expression.
        How could that possibly be the way this should work?

      2. Bake my cake!

        As long as I’m immune to prosecution when I bake a “God hates fags!” cake, sure. If you could grant me a selective nationwide immunity to cakes with offensive messages on top, that would be great. Lastly, if you could make sure that I can still sue other people for their speech that *I* find offensive, that would be great.

  7. I think Binion is confused. Censorship is not limited to the government. All the privately owned broadcasters employ censors. Censorship is censorship even if it’s not actionable,

    1. Exactly. Censorship can be practiced and enforced by anyone, not just the government.

      1. And even if public companies have a right to do so, if they’re doing something in a dishonest fashion, they deserve to be called out for it.

        That said, the Google “autofill” search stuff is a stupid complaint. The algorithm is likely going to be driven by users.

        1. Additionally, Billy failed to add a fucking space to his search, so he got some weird “israel” autofills. If he’d added a space, he’d have gotten almost the exact same results as PragerU’s twitter post.

          So Billy, you didn’t “prove” anything by doing something inaccurate. But it’s still shitty evidence that only autofills things people tend to search for.

          1. You might want to take another look at his screenshots

            1. Nevermind, I took another look and see what you’re saying. I’m dumb

        2. The idea that autocomplete is strictly organic and in no way manipulated doesn’t really hold up. Do some testing. Think about something your average bigot might search for. “Why is Islam”, “why are women”, “why are black people” and so on. Yeah, you’ll get autocomplete suggestions, but you can’t tell me they’re not filtering out unsavory ones. That’s not strictly a bad thing, but it’s ridiculous to claim it’s strictly organic based only on usage and prediction.

  8. What the hell Reason??? How do you not understand the difference between censorship [The suppression or prohibition (by *ANYONE*) of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security] and first amendment violations [Which have to be government actors]???

  9. Billy Binion doesn’t understand what Censorship is.

    A private company is perfectly capable of censoring content they host. It is even a recommended practice.

    Perhaps Billy is confused with the 1st Amendment which forbids Government from prohibiting or abridging speech.

    Twitter clearly isn’t the US government, so the 1st amendment doesn’t apply. However that in NO WAY means that Twitter isn’t censoring individuals or groups based on their political leanings. However, as private companies they aren’t subject to the 1st amendment and have the right to Censor content.

    1. Exactly.

    2. Binon is a standout even among the disgracefully terrible stable of Reason staff nitwits

      1. May be so but there should be a better practice policy when creating an internet forum within the united states. The fact that any online forum that makes billions of dollars off the population should have standards that aren’t biased on people’s political affiliation. It’s like getting hired at a job and once they find out you don’t vote for the same team your treated differently. Follow the golden rule and your businesses will flourish. Just my opinion.

  10. “The First Amendment protects PragerU from government action, not from the decisions of a private company.”

    Um, the tweet you posted from Prager U didn’t mention the First Amendment

  11. I’m not the government and I censor what my children see and say ALL THE TIME.

    1st Amendment violation? No.

    Censorship? Damn right!

    It’s almost like left-wing libertarians aren’t libertarian at all …

    1. I’m not the government and I censor what my children see and say ALL THE TIME.

      1st Amendment violation? No.

      Censorship? Damn right!

      What’s funny is Reason’s hyper-partisan on-again/off-again relationship with crony capitalism and the 14A/equality. The government shutting your speech down is a 1A violation, but the government paying a private entity and/or giving them special protections from speech they silence is the idiots being silenced misunderstanding how the Constitution works.

  12. Is everybody at Reason a Silicon Valley sock puppet? Let’s follow the money…

  13. The 1st Amendment stops all censorship ever morons.

    1. The 1st Amendment stops all censorship ever morons.

      Except when private individuals bring suits against information content providers in court. Then we need the CDA. But not all of the CDA because most of it stops the 1A from stopping censorship. Just the part that allows the 1A to stop ‘civil censorship’ of (some) information content providers.

  14. about the Ad Issue, a Youtuber called Harmful Opinions pointed out that relying on Google Adsense is not a reliable way to make a living and it’s the responsibility of the Content Creator to diversify their methods of income, like use other services like PayPal, KickStarter, or Patreon, or maybe produce and sell products like T-Shirts… Or produce a Video Game to sell on Steam and hope no one will sue you over a Minor Coincidence

  15. “But instead of complaining about the actions of private companies, Prager should educate himself about what censorship actually means.”

    Well…what does it mean, Bill? You will not find a dictionary that relegates the term exclusively to the behavior to government actors.
    Prager et al.’s complaining about omnipresent tech’s selective enforcement of “policy”, encouraged by Section 230, being tantamount to government action is valid and the phenomenon is obvious to everyone, so you can just fckng stop.

    “Bizarrely, the conservative video-maker has accused the company of rigging internet search results to reflect poorly on PragerU.”

    What’s even more bizarre is that you can’t be bothered to so much as use Google to see what they are in fact doing and proselytize to be doing in the future. There is a small mountain of information with respect to Google’s search result manipulations.

    It’s just all so dishonest. I am voting for Trump out of spite.

  16. Hey Reason, stop making me defend tech statists! Tech bias is real, and damaging to conservatives, can we please stop denying facts and move on to discussing why statist responses to real problems are suboptimal? What’s the libertarian solution to a private monopoly on public speech systematically silencing statements of fact?? What’s does the non-aggression principal have to say about holding a company to account for holding up their end of TOS?

    1. They should absolutely attempt to redress the TOS issue in civil court.

  17. Google in fact does edit and bias the suggestions in some cases.

    This was the result of google bombs – people putting up a bunch of pages, links and comments to get a desired result. Like “Stupid president” giving you Bush’s campaign page. Left wing activists made a point of using this in the 2006 election cycle to ensure that the top result for republican candidates would be a negative article or page about that candidate.

    In 2007 google announced a change in their calculations designed to reduce the effectiveness of this tactic.

    In the 2016 election cycle there were several terms that were unfavorable to certain candidates that were manually removed from auto-suggest. There were also suggestions of bias, as similar terms were not removed for other candidates.

    So Prager questioning google suggest isn’t entirely out of left field.

  18. I find it hilarious that there are those who chide PragerU for complaining about biased censorship, stating that private companies have the right to censor, yet will turn right around and complain if a private company discriminates based on race, religion or any reason whatsoever. If the Constitution only covers government discrimination, then all other forms by private companies are perfectly legal.

    1. I wonder if Facebook/Twitter/etc are truly “private” anyway… concidering the government subsidies.

  19. Companies like Google exist in their current form only because of government spending, government policies, and regulatory capture. Furthermore, they are under constant threat of government action and have to comply with the wishes of their regulatory bodies and politicians, foremost Democrats.

    To claim that companies like Google are operating like private companies and making decisions based independent of government is absurd and utterly ignorant.

  20. In addition the two complaints by PragerU that I have seen are not addressed: YouTube demonentizes innocuous videos; and Youtub age-restricts innocuous videos.

    It is possible PragerU is doing something wrong, but its seems equally plausible that something about Youtube is acting to restrict PragerU videos in ways that are unfair. Although it is their right, Youtube’s lack of transparency into these processes doesn’t encourage confidence that the process is fair.

    Youtube has the right can run an unfair process and there is bound to be some unfairness in any process. At least in the case of Youtube, if it bugs enough people enough, they can move to a competing service. That is what competition in rule sets is all about!

  21. I must laud Billy Binion and Reason Magazine for their audacity. It takes a lot of chutzpah to correct PragerU on censorship and just assume that readers will agree that you’re right and their wrong; instead of coming off like Billy Binion is just some chump who stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

  22. This might a new all-time low in Reason’s rush to get to the shittiest of shit takes. None of the examples that were provided show Prager ever invoking the 1st Amendment. He may well do that (I don’t know. I don’t like the guy, and I don’t listen to him), but no example is given. Censorship is exactly what Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and Google are doing. There is no requirement to be “government” to censor someone. Furthermore, this god-awful narrative angle Reason keeps taking on these types of stories is spineless. We, as libertarians should be outraged at corporations for suppressing speech, and we should be advocating social pressure to induce change (while also pointing out, as this article does, that they have the right to be douchebags). Every time a new example of progressive scumbags censoring conservative speech happens, Reason falls back to the shitty line that “It isn’t technically illegal, and they have the right”. No libertarian is arguing against that, and neither is any real, classic conservative. They are arguing that it is shitty, and the way the companies are implementing it is dishonest, and contrary to their own policies.

  23. This title is an Epic Fail. Clearly the author doesn’t understand what the word censorship means.

  24. We don’t live in a libertarian world. If Youtube or Twitter restricted content from creators for “not being white” they would be sued to the skies.

    If Prager U’s content is being blocked because of political bias (or even an unreasonable algorithm), that’s not something we ignore. It’s arguably illegal. Can Amazon kick me out of their site or membership because I said nice things about trump and weed?

    Who cares if more leftist content is blocked? There’s almost nothing offensive on PragerU channel, whereas the fringe of the left might have politically charged content with lot of violent rhetoric and imagery.

    If I didn’t violate the tech TOS, I have reasonable expectation of not being jerked around by them, especially if they make money off me. I believe in things like freedom of association and at will employment. But libertarianism is not the current standard. If private companies can censor content but Christian bakers are forced to bake gay wedding cakes, that’s going to be a problem.

  25. Praeger has a lot of gall complaining about Censorship. He’s committing fraud being a radio host impersonating a University.

    TGF have a right to censor anything they want on their platform, not being the government, it’s not a 1A issue. You have a right to complain about said censorship, and I have a right to complain about you complaining about it, as nauseam.

    The bottom line is TGF will censor whatever is best for their bottom line. Being large publicly held corporation, I doubt Z is making his techs encode political bias. You’re welcome to cause enough ruckus to change their minds, but GOD, conservatives are such whiners!

    1. Nobody is claiming it’s a 1A issue…

  26. *McJackboot crushes windpipe… slowly.*
    >at least it’s not government!!!

  27. Oxymoronic site-name if this article of rhetorical fallacies is considered representative. Hemorrhaging credibility with me.

    “Except that’s not actually censorship. Far from it: A quick glance at the company’s Twitter feed shows that it uses the platform to great advantage, with hundreds of thousands of followers and a bevy of tweets that drive mega-engagement. If PragerU was actually “censored” by Twitter, they would not have a Twitter platform at all.”

    The OED disagrees. Censorship is not by definition binary. It can run the gamut from little-censorship to complete-censorship.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.