Hawley blasts big tech for 'censoring' Christian worship leader
Sen. Josh Hawley called out Instagram Wednesday night for censoring videos of a Christian activist participating in peaceful prayer gatherings at protest sites around the country.
The Missouri Republican shared a post on Twitter from Sean Feucht, who claimed the tech giant was blocking his videos from being shared and viewed without giving him a specific reason.
"Cancel culture meets #BigTech. Now @instagram is censoring a Christian worship leader who wants to post videos of praise and worship from places where there has recently been unrest," Hawley wrote. "And that doesn’t meet 'community standards'? Can’t wait to hear the explanation for this."
Feucht's original tweet said: "This is what we’ve come to in America! Instagram is now classifying my WORSHIP videos as 'harmful or false information.' Religious Liberty? Freedom of Speech? Big Tech censorship?"
Fox News spoke with Feucht, 36, on Thursday about his ministry and how he came to discover that his videos were being blocked.
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"I'm a leader in the faith community. I'm also an artist and I have a worship and missions ministry," he said. "One of the things we've been doing since [the recent U.S. protests] started happening is, we've been going to a lot of these places and bringing a unified -- black, white Hispanic, Asian -- just a unified coalition of people together, worshiping and praying, and peacefully protesting.
"We did it in St. Louis under the archway, a couple of blocks from where four cops were shot a night or two before," Feucht continued. "It was still pretty crazy there. Then we did Minneapolis. We have people in Manhattan and all kinds of places but myself personally, I was there in St. Louis and then Minneapolis. What was happening was, for whatever reason my videos on Instagram were being flagged as harmful and did not meet the community standards."
The California resident and father of four said he only realized what was happening after other users complained to him that they weren't able to share or view any of his recent content.
"I noticed the videos were being suppressed and they weren't getting the normal traction," he explained. "But I didn't know this was the reason until I started getting tagged in people's posts about it. Other people were finding they couldn't share it, screenshot it -- they couldn't even view it. So I blew the trumpet on it because this is crazy."
Feucht provided Fox News with YouTube links to two of his videos that were flagged as harmful, from prayer gatherings that took place in St. Louis and Minneapolis on June 5 and June 14, respectively.
The first video, titled "Worshiping through the riots in St. Louis," showed a crowd of people of different backgrounds gathered together preaching a message of peace, faith and inclusion as music played in the background.
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The second video, titled "HOPE RALLY at the George Floyd Memorial site," showed people praying, singing and comforting one another. It also included various baptisms of those in attendance. People of different races were also shown crying together and hugging each other.
"The stuff that's being pushed [on social media] -- the violence, the looting, all those videos are crazy," Feucht added. "Meanwhile, we're literally having a time of prayer and worship. There is nothing remotely close to anything offensive. I don't know why it was flagged. I still haven't gotten an answer from them yet."
Fox News reached out to Facebook, which owns Instagram, about the videos.
“We haven’t removed any content from @seanfreucht’s account," spokesperson Stephanie Otway told Fox News. "The post in question was re-shared by another account, and we haven't seen any evidence that it was removed by mistake."
Fox News also reached out to Hawley, who is an outspoken critic of big tech.
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“In the last few weeks alone, Twitter called President Trump’s promise to enforce the law -- which the Constitution requires him to do -- ‘abusive,’" he told Fox News. "Google threatened to demonetize conservative news sites, and now Instagram decided to censor a Christian worship leader for posting praise and worship videos. There is no accountability for these companies who engage in censorship, and this is why Congress needs to reform Section 230 and end the sweetheart deal for these companies.”
Feucht, who said he's received death threats for the work he's been doing, accused the media of shying away from positive stories related to faith because they don't drive website traffic. He also said he hopes his story can serve as a catalyst for action amongst the Christian community.
"It's reaching absurd levels. They're trying to create this narrative," he said. "The church is gathering together. Worship and prayer meetings are happening but people aren't seeing them. I think a lot of it is because the mainstream media doesn't think it's click-worthy. They prefer a fearmongering narrative."
Feucht added: "It could be a flashpoint in the Christian community to start asking, 'What's going on?'"