- The FEC unanimously rejected a Trump campaign complaint against Snapchat.
- Snapchat removed Trump’s content from the curated “Discover” page in June 2020 for inciting “racial violence.”
- The Trump campaign alleged that Snapchat made an illegal contribution to Joe Biden by doing so.
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The Federal Election Commission has dismissed a complaint made by former President Donald Trump’s campaign against Snapchat, which it said had violated election laws by removing the campaign’s content from its curated “Discover” page.
Snapchat announced in June 2020 that it would no longer promote Trump’s content on the page, though it did not remove Trump’s account from the platform, leading to a complaint from the campaign 4 months later.
“We are not currently promoting the president’s content on Snapchat’s discover platform,” a Snap spokesperson told Insider at the time. “We will not amplify voices who incite racial violence and injustice by giving them free promotion on Discover.
“Snapchat is trying to rig the 2020 election, illegally using their corporate funding to promote Joe Biden and suppress President Trump,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said at the time. “Radical Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel would rather promote extreme left riot videos and encourage their users to destroy America than share the positive words of unity, justice, and law and order from our President.”
Ultimately, all 6 commissioners voted to find that Snapchat had not violated federal election laws.
In the initial complaint, filed in late September of 2020, the campaign’s general counsel argued that Snapchat was “illegally placing its corporate thumb on the scale of the 2020 presidential Election” and had “made upwards of $US12.5 ($AU17) million worth of potentially prohibited in-kind corporate contributions” to Trump’s opponents by continuing to promote the Biden campaign’s content on the Discover page.
“Snap pretextually claims President Trump and the Trump Campaign violated Snapchat’s community guidelines merely by commenting on ongoing violent and destructive street riots,” the Trump campaign’s complaint reads. “In reality, Snapchat’s CEO disagreed with President Trump and his Campaign’s messaging on these important social issues and sought to silence the President and his Campaign’s voice based on his own partisan ideology.”
And just like Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida argued about social media giant Twitter in two separate complaints to the commission in the last few years – including a 2018 complaint over an alleged “shadow ban” and a 2020 complaint about fact-checking labels on Trump’s tweets – Trump’s campaign argued that Snapchat was a “debate platform” subject to FEC regulation.
The social media company, which is primarily centered around sending disappearing photo messages, responded to the complaint in November 2020.
A representative of the company argued that the platform was not being partisan because “a major conservative organization used Snapchat to advocate for repeal of Obamacare” and “The National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican Governors Association have used Snapchat to attack political opponents.”
The company also pointed to its community guidelines and use of editorial standards, as well as its self-conception as a “friendlier, less incendiary place than Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.” They also said that Snapchat’s young users “are not interested in hearing divisive rhetoric” and that the company had seen advertising a windfall in advertising revenues of its “values-driven approach.”
Ultimately, the commissioners agreed with Snapchat’s reasoning. An April 2021 legal analysis by the commission’s legal staff found that the company had legitimate commercial reasons to remove Trump’s content from the curated feed. “[Snapchat’s] response appears to have been comparable, and in some cases less severe, than the responses of its social media competitors,” read the analysis. It also rebuked the notion that Snapchat had made an in-kind contribution to the Biden campaign by maintain its content on the “Discover” page.