Zuckerberg Speaks

Today Mark Zuckerberg testified before a joint session of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees. Hanging over his appearance was the question whether Congress will enact new regulations on companies like Facebook. Zuckerberg was entirely open to the concept; if you are a monopolist, submitting to regulation simply cements your position. What is striking to me is the childlike faith that so many have in “regulation.” What regulation seems almost irrelevant. Whatever has recently gone wrong can be fixed, apparently, by a regulation dictating the opposite.

But I want to focus on another aspect of Zuckerberg’s testimony, when Senator Ted Cruz asked about liberal bias at Facebook. Mediaite has video of Cruz’s questioning along with this summary:

Asked to explain whether the site was truly neutral, Zuckerberg noted that it bans hate speech, nudity and terrorist content. However, Cruz insisted it was biased.

“There are a great many Americans who I think are deeply concerned that Facebook and other tech companies are engaged in a pervasive pattern of bias and political censorship,” he said. “There have been numerous instances with Facebook.”

Cruz cited a Gizmodo report from May 2016 that he said showed the social media site “had purposefully and routinely suppressed conservative stories from trending news, including stories about CPAC, including stories about Mitt Romney, including stories about the Lois Learner IRS scandal, including stories about Glenn Beck.”

Cruz added that Facebook had “initially shut down the Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day page,” as well as a post from a Fox News reporter, some Catholic pages, and the page of Diamond and Silk, after determining their content was “unsafe to the community.”

Zuckerberg responded by acknowledging–remarkably, I think–that Silicon Valley “is an extremely left-leaning place.” But he denied any knowledge of the political views of Facebook’s 15,000 or more content reviewers, and said that he personally is committed to making Facebook’s platform accessible to people of all political stripes.

That might be true. But, as usual when Congressmen and Senators question witnesses, the initial question wasn’t followed up. If Facebook is a neutral forum, open to all, then why were Diamond and Silk banned–on the absurd ground that they are “unsafe to the community”–simply because they support the President of the United States? If Facebook were motivated only by profit, it wouldn’t suppress a page that has more than a million followers. Obviously, this was an act of left-wing political activism. But no one at today’s hearing asked what Zuckerberg is doing to prevent such leftist bias from infecting his company.

Here is a prediction: Congress will enact regulations on platforms like Facebook. (Or, more accurately, on Facebook, since, as today’s hearing confirmed, there aren’t any other platforms like Facebook.) Those regulations will purport to satisfy privacy concerns, but won’t do anything significant beyond what Facebook has already implemented. The real issue–the impact on our political life of monopoly platforms that are committed to political activism of a specific stripe–won’t be addressed.

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