March 4, 2021
“Big Tech” companies began 2021 by suspending business relationships and censoring certain religious organizations. Chilling examples include Twitter’s recent lockdowns of accounts operated by Catholic World Report and The Daily Citizen.
What had Catholic World Report and The Daily Citizen done? Catholic World Report referred to an administrative agency nominee as “a biological man identifying as a transgender woman” and The Daily Citizen referred to the same nominee as “a transgender woman, that is, a man who believes he is a woman.” Twitter asserted that these tweets violated their “rules against hateful conduct” without actually explaining what constituted “hateful conduct.” Due to the lockout, both religious news sites were unable to communicate with their followers and participate in the broader public dialogue on Twitter.
Faith-based organizations should not be forced into silence regarding, for example, metaphysical and biological truths about human persons because of a dependence on, or fear of, Big Tech. Rather than wait for a service interruption to happen, religious nonprofits should take the following proactive steps immediately to protect against future censoring:
(1) identify the core services for which your nonprofit relies on Big Tech;
(2) develop a short-term plan to implement if service interruptions occur; and
(3) develop a long-term plan to reduce your nonprofit’s dependence on Big Tech.
By being proactive and committed to truth, faith-based organizations can advance the common good and share their beliefs without fear of reprisal. This white paper outlines how to begin this process so that faith-based organizations are better protected to achieve their missions.
Identify the Core Services Big Tech Companies Provide to Your Nonprofit
First, identify the three to five activities that are core to your organization’s operations. Next, determine whether any of these activities rely on Big Tech services to succeed. There is no technical definition for a “core activity.” A good rule of thumb for determining whether something is a “core activity” is to ask: “Could my organization operate effectively and achieve its mission in the short-term and long-term without this activity?”
Some general examples include: communication with constituents (such as program participants, volunteers, donors, and supporters), cloud hosting, payment processing, website hosting, customer relationship management, and product or content promotion.
Specifically, for a faith-based news organization, core activities probably rely on the use of social media platforms such as Twitter or Facebook. For an educational organization, such as a school or tutoring program, core activities might rely on core services such as website hosting, shared file drives, and Google Classroom or Zoom access. For community service organizations, such as a homeless shelter, core activities might depend on event-related functions on social media sites such as Facebook. For a pro-life organization, core activities might require access to YouTube to publish informative videos and the use of an e-newsletter service, such as MailChimp, to distribute email updates to thousands of readers simultaneously.
Once you identify any core activities that depend on Big Tech services, the organization should develop a simple plan to execute if services are suspended.
This plan should include both a regular system of backing-up key resources and a plan of action to employ when necessary.
The back-up plan should preserve your organization’s access to key information and resources. The plan should be effective immediately; the wise leader plans ahead.
For example, if customer relationship management or communication is key to your organization’s mission, your back-up system should include ensuring you have back-up databases and up-to-date contact information for your supporters. You should periodically download a list of Twitter followers, MailChimp subscribers, or even Salesforce contacts and save a copy offline.
If your organization posts content to platforms such as Facebook or YouTube, save high-quality copies of the content offline.
Be aware that free services may sometimes be more vulnerable to service interruptions or censorship than paid services. Paid services typically come with a contract such as “terms or service” or “service agreement.” A binding contract with a vendor may offer your organization additional legal protections that could reduce the risk of service interruption. In cases where a free option and a paid option are available for a mission-critical service, review the “terms of service” for the paid option. If the terms for the paid option are generally more favorable to paying customers than the free option, consider upgrading to the paid service to obtain the additional protections of contract law.
Regardless of whether the service is free or paid, be sure to review the terms and conditions to understand how the agreement might impact your organization. For example, look for language about:
- Your Rights. Terms beginning with “Customer will have the right…” or “Vendor will make services available to Customer in exchange for…” will tell you what rights your organization will have to products or services from the vendor under the contract.
- Contract Suspension or Termination. Language like “the vendor may terminate” or “the vendor reserves the right to suspend service” can tell you when and how the vendor can cancel or suspend your access to the service.
- Policing of Speech. Review the contract terms so that you understand whether the vendor is assigning itself the right to regulate and censor speech on its platform and, if so, to what extent.
The Plan of Action
The plan of action should outline the steps the organization will take if a service needed for a core activity is interrupted.
If a social media account is suspended, the plan might include some of the following elements:
- A list of names and contact information for reporters who can report the suspension to the public. The ability to quickly “go public” in cases of censorship has been key to the resolution of past incidents. An example is highlighted in this article from The National Catholic Register.
- Name and contact information of customer service representatives at the service provider, who can be contacted to appeal the suspension (for example, whom would you contact to appeal a decision by YouTube to remove a video or by Twitter to lock your account?).
- An old-fashioned “phone tree” of partner organizations and supporters that might be able to distribute content on your behalf until the service interruption is resolved.
- A draft email announcement of the suspension and email list to communicate the interruption to key constituents.
- The contact information of several public interest law firms.
If you are prevented from posting content to a publishing platform such as YouTube, the plan of action should also include:
- Alternative publishing sites where content can be posted; and
- A communications plan for updating followers and directing them to the new platform.
Focus on the Family’s response to the suspension of their Daily Citizen Twitter account offers an example of an effective short-term plan. Because Focus on the Family had other affiliated Twitter accounts, when the Daily Citizen account was locked, the affiliated accounts were immediately able to notify subscribers and share links to the story that had been censored. Allied news organizations were able to quickly pick up the story.
Another lesson from this example: Organizations that rely heavily on social media organizations should consider having an affiliated back-up account(s) to use if the primary account is locked. Users can be notified via email to refer to the back-up account if the primary account is suspended.
While a short-term plan can minimize the damage of service interruptions, the organization should also consider a long-term plan to reduce its reliance on Big Tech and other organizations that might wish to suppress the work of faith-based nonprofits.
The questions to ask in developing the long-term plan include:
1. Whether there are cost-effective ways to bring core services in-house;
2. Whether there are alternative vendors that might better align with your organization; and
3. If the first two options are not available, what redundancies can be built in for back-up use when needed. (An example of a redundant system might be maintaining an up-to-date spreadsheet of email information for subscribers to facilitate sending manual emails if needed, but continuing to use MailChimp when it is available; or creating a Rumble account, but continuing to use YouTube.)
As Christians, we are called to pray and work for unity. We are also called to be prudent and courageous in speaking the Truth and advocating for the common good, even (and most especially) when our views are unpopular.
By managing the risk of censorship posed by over-reliance on Big Tech and other companies that do not support the presence and activities of faith-based organizations, faith-based nonprofits can contribute to the common good and better ensure their continued ability to reach those they serve.
Technology and the Common Good, by Maggie Beecher, Napa Legal
Related Resources: De-platforming Appeals Forms and Processes for Key Companies
 “Big Tech” generally refers to Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft. The phrase also covers YouTube, a Google subsidiary, and Instagram, a Facebook subsidiary.
 The Daily Citizen is a subsidiary of Focus on The Family.
 Catholic World Report’s account of what transpired with Twitter can be found here.
 The Daily Citizen’s account of what transpired with Twitter can be found here.
 Notably, after Catholic World Report strongly objected to the suspension, Twitter unlocked the account and announced the suspension had occurred in error. Similar stories are highlighted in this article from The National Catholic Register.
 It is worth noting that services provided for free, such as Twitter or Facebook, are sometimes more vulnerable to service interruptions than paid services like Microsoft 365, which are usually subject to the terms of a contract and may have additional legal protections which lower the risks of a service interruption.
 Matthew 25:1-13.
 See here for community guidelines from Amazon, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. See these links for terms and conditions of these companies: Amazon, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Legal Disclaimer: This white paper contains general educational information related to legal concepts, but this information does not constitute legal advice. Anyone seeking legal advice is strongly encouraged to consult with a licensed attorney regarding any of the matters discussed herein. Although licensed attorneys work with Napa Institute Legal Foundation (“Napa Legal”), Napa Legal is not a law firm and does not undertake legal representation on behalf of any clients. Further, no licensed attorney working with or on behalf of Napa Legal agrees to undertake legal representation on behalf of any client unless the terms of such representation are set forth in a separate, written representation agreement.