On Tuesday, Facebook released the results of an independent investigation that started a year ago, into allegations that the social media giant has an anti-conservative bias.
The problems are well documented in the report and plenty of supporting evidence was provided to back up the claims made by conservative groups. Without spelling out in black and white that Facebook intentionally discriminates against conservatives, the report lists the baby steps the company has already taken to correct the serious problems. They also explain they are nowhere close to restoring balance but hope to get there bit by bit.
An eight-page report, prepared by former Republican Senator Jon Kyl and others at the law firm Covington and Burling, LLP, states that “although Facebook has made some progress in eliminating anti-conservative bias, the company still has work left to do.” That means that they did find bias.
The report meticulously details the complaints that have been made for years about Facebook’s unfair policies. Facebook commissioned the third-party audit after conservative bloggers and news reporters, joined by activists and religious rights proponents, complained loud enough about the censorship to gain the attention of President Donald Trump. When he started tweeting, Facebook decided they had to do something about it.
As Kyl noted in the report, “Facebook’s ability to personalize the content that its users see and interact with each day — along with Facebook’s ever-growing size and reach — has generated concerns about the platform’s impacts on free expression.”
Kyl and his team started by defining “conservative” as including, “political conservatives, people of orthodox religious views, libertarians, pro-lifers, traditionalists, Republicans, and free speech advocates.” Then, they interviewed 133 “key conservative organizations, individuals, and lawmakers who either use, study, or have the potential to regulate Facebook.” In May of 2019 they went back and interviewed them again as follow up.
What they found was that the valid concerns fell into six general categories. Content Distribution and Algorithms, Content Policies, Content Enforcement, Ad Policies, Ad Enforcement, and Workforce Viewpoint Diversity.
Facebook decides which posts out of thousands possible show up in your news feed. The investigators agreed that the way it works can “prioritize content in ways that suppress” conservative viewpoints.
One of the biggest factors is a change that went into effect in January of 2018 where “broadly trusted sources” were ranked much higher. That ended up squeezing independent conservatives right out of the news feed in favor of the huge and extremely liberal mainstream media giants.
Everyone agrees that something should be done to counter “clickbait” and “spam,” but the problem is who decides. Facebook’s policies are too “opaque” for anyone to know what they are doing wrong when they get flagged.
Facebook has been taking on “fake news” with fact checking services like Snopes, PolitiFact, Factcheck.org and the Associated Press. All have a liberal bias. Facebook recently added a couple of conservative ones, including the Daily Caller’s fact-checking unit.
“Hate speech” and “hate organizations” is another big deal. Hate is an extremely subjective thing to classify. The term “hate speech” is controversial all by itself. It incorrectly ascribes “motive” that, in many cases, might not be there. As far as Hate organizations. Facebook generally takes the word of the Southern Poverty Law Center to decide. According to the report, “Many conservatives view the SPLC as an extreme organization intent on defaming conservatives.”
Pro-life, socially conservative, and religious content are especially vulnerable to Facebook’s censorship because “Facebook’s Community Standards are too complex and difficult to navigate, making it hard to understand the rules of the road when using the platform,” the auditors write. How is it that the guidelines filter out “language from the Bible, the Declaration of Independence, and the writings of St. Augustine.”
All of the same concerns regarding content are reflected in the advertising side. Many advocate non-profit groups are incorrectly labeled as “political” when they aren’t. In fact, their tax status doesn’t let them be political. Facebook’s arbitrary designation is causing companies headaches with the IRS.
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One of the biggest concerns was the liberal bias of the vast majority of Facebook’s employees. “Many interviewees believed that Facebook is a liberal organization with liberal employees, making interviewees skeptical that the platform’s policies are fairly written and enforced. Some interviewees specifically complained that Facebook’s Board of Directors lacks conservative members.” Facebook promises to add a few conservatives to the board.
One of the biggest improvements will be the creation of an oversight board. It will act as a panel of judges on the most controversial decisions. Conservatives are expected to be equally represented on the panel. Improvements in the appeal process when a post gets flagged is another major improvement conservatives are looking forward to.
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