The White House Insisted It Had Thousands of Social Media Bias Complaints, but the FTC Has No Record of Them

On May 28, the White House issued Executive Order 13925, “Preventing Online Censorship”. It is a load of crap but it contains one directive that intrigued me:

Sec. 4. Federal Review of Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices. […] (b) In May of 2019, the White House launched a Tech Bias Reporting tool to allow Americans to report incidents of online censorship. In just weeks, the White House received over 16,000 complaints of online platforms censoring or otherwise taking action against users based on their political viewpoints. The White House will submit such complaints received to the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

I have long been fascinated by the apparently thousands of complaints submitted to that reporting tool. I remember the web treating it as a bit of a joke when it was launched, and submitting all sorts of phony garbage because, well, it’s this administration and it’s an open comment form on the internet. What do you expect?

Because it was launched by the White House, nobody could submit a FOIA request to see those records. However, by turning those complaints over to the FTC and DOJ, they suddenly became FOIA-able. And you can bet a whole bunch of us started submitting requests. Unfortunately, the receiving agencies keep saying they don’t have any record of them.

Mike Masnick, Techdirt:

Of course, now that the White House was claiming a specific amount (over 16,000) and saying it was passing them along to the FTC, you might think it would be a new opportunity to find out about these complaints. Turns out… no. Ryan Singel filed a FOIA request for those complaints and the FTC says the White House never sent over the complaints:

The FTC has not received the aforementioned complaints. We have located 10 complaints received through the Consumer Sentinel Network that mention this topic area and they are enclosed.

As you might expect, the 10 included complaints are pretty ludicrous. To be clear, I expect that even if the White House can turn up 16,000 such complaints that they will almost all be totally ludicrous.

I have received three similar letters from the FTC claiming they don’t have the records. I have not yet received a response from the DOJ despite several attempts.