Critics on Both Sides Doubt Facebook’s Review of Conservative Bias

‘Merely asking somebody to listen to conservatives’ concerns isn’t an “audit,” it’s a smokescreen disguised as a solution…’

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Facebook/photo by Book Catalog (CC)

(Dan E. Way, Liberty Headlines) The report from a yearlong audit examining whether Facebook was guilty of promoting bias against conservatives and censoring their free speech was released Tuesday.

According to news website Axios, the study conducted by former Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and his team of lawyers “included interviews with approximately 133 conservative lawmakers and groups.”

It didn’t get many likes.

Kyl’s team presented the initial findings to Facebook a year ago and began conducting follow-up interviews in May.

The report concluded that “conservatives consistently expressed the view that, while platform users should be protected from harm, no one has a right to not feel offended or to be immune from criticism.”

Partisans on both sides seemed to find confirmation bias in the conclusions.

Those on the Right said Facebook and other tech giant platforms, such as Google and Twitter, are liberal weapons censoring conservative viewpoints and were veiling their true intentions by halfheartedly appearing to address widespread criticism.

Others, on the Left, claimed the study wrongly conferred legitimacy on what they saw as far-fetched and unsubstantiated complaints of liberal discrimination.

The issue of protecting diversity of political discourse on social media is heating up as the 2020 presidential election approaches. Social media and search engines play an increasingly vital role in campaign messaging and advertising.

Conservatives worry their voice will be squelched as tech titans rely on their liberal worldview to determine what is improper or hateful speech impermissible to publish.

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Jon Kyl/Photo by Gage Skidmore (CC)

“Facebook has recognized the importance of our assessment and has taken some steps to address the concerns we uncovered,” said the report. “But there is still significant work to be done to satisfy the concerns we heard from conservatives.”

Audit participants expressed concerns that Facebook algorithms gave preference to liberal viewpoints; thought its community standards for hate speech and hate organizations were skewed against pro-life, socially conservative and religious groups; content enforcement was heavily tilted against conservatives; and conservative ad content was rejected or removed more often than liberal advertisements.

Kyl will issue a follow-up report in a few months.

Liberals jeered the audit for lacking any data, its methodology of talking only to conservatives, and granting them anonymity. Print magazine/website publication Mother Jones carped against the audit, noting Kyl’s report found no evidence of bias.

“The claim that Facebook has been working against conservatives has been debunked both anecdotally and by studies,” the far-left outlet asserted. “After all, Facebook failed to respond to Russia’s pro-Trump influence operations in 2016, and allowed its user-data to be used by the Trump campaign to target voters.”

Nevertheless, Republicans have held hearings, and together with Trump “have rallied their supporters by contending that Facebook, run by California liberals, is censoring conservative voices,” Mother Jones said.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., also threw shade on Kyl’s report.

“Merely asking somebody to listen to conservatives’ concerns isn’t an ‘audit,’ it’s a smokescreen disguised as a solution,” said Hawley, who recently sponsored a widely panned bill to curb some of the more addictive features of social media sites.

Critics note that his proposed legislation could strip interactive computer services of protections against criminal charges for libel and other illegal speech on their platforms unless they can show to a newly created commission they practice Internet content neutrality.

Hawley called on the tech company to go farther with a more comprehensive independent review.

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Josh Hawley/IMAGE: Fox Business via YouTube

“Facebook should conduct an actual audit by giving a trusted third party access to its algorithm, its key documents, and its content moderation protocols,” he said. “Then Facebook should release the results to the public.”

Hawley was among members of Congress and conservative social media website operators at a White House summit with President Donald Trump on July 11. At the time he scoffed at liberals and the legacy media who contend anti-conservative bias is a fiction.

“The social media giants would love to shut us down. They would love to shut us up,” Hawley said.

Trump echoed Hawley’s warning at the July 11 summit.

“I am directing my administration to explore all regulatory and legislation solutions to protect free speech and the free speech rights of all Americans,” a White House press release quoted him as saying.

That same press release cited instances of what the White House views as unfair practices.

  • Facebook and Twitter have repeatedly engaged in the shadow banning of conservative voices on their platforms.
  • In 2018, Facebook issued an apology for wrongly taking down a political ad promoting the campaign of now-Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.
  • Google employees admitted to debating whether to bury news of President Trump.

CNN reported on Aug. 10 that it had obtained a summary of a draft executive order that “calls for the FCC to develop new regulations clarifying how and when the law protects social media websites when they decide to remove or suppress content on their platforms.”

It noted that such changes could pose legal issues for web-based platforms that have long hidden behind First Amendment protections by claiming status as publishing companies.

“Although still in its early stages and subject to change, the Trump administration’s draft order also calls for the Federal Trade Commission to take those new policies into account when it investigates or files lawsuits against misbehaving companies,” CNN said.