Can Facebook Be Saved?

Last year, Facebook hired former senator Jon Kyl and lawyers from Covington and Burling, a prominent D.C. law firm, to look into allegations of bias against conservatives. The Kyl group released its first report today.

My impression of the report is that it does a pretty good job of summarizing conservatives’ concerns about the Facebook platform. For example:

Hate Organization Designations:​ Facebook prohibits use of the platform by “terrorist groups and hate organizations,” and removes content that praises them, their actions, or their members. We note both the importance of distinguishing between the “hate speech” and “hate organization” designations, and the confusion the similarity of the two labels can cause. Interviewees frequently expressed concern over Facebook’s perceived reliance on the Southern Poverty Law Center (“SPLC”) and other left-leaning organizations to identify hate groups. Many conservatives view the SPLC as an extreme organization intent on defaming conservatives.

And:

Ensuring Oversight Board viewpoint diversity:​ A majority of our interviewees were concerned that Facebook employees—many of whom reside in Silicon Valley—hold left-of-center viewpoints that impact the creation and implementation of content policies and algorithms. Recognizing this, Facebook has said that it will ensure that its oversight board represents a diverse range of intellectual viewpoints, as one mechanism for providing an external check on any biases that may be present internally at Facebook.

The report does not, however, itemize an impressive list of measures that Facebook has undertaken, or even promises to undertake, to address conservatives’ concerns. Facebook’s position is that it doesn’t discriminate against conservatives, or if it does, any such discrimination is inadvertent. Thus, for the most part, measures to improve transparency should be enough to allay conservatives’ concerns.

Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs and Communications, Nick Clegg, wrote about today’s report here.

This work is not an issue of personal political opinion. As at any large company, there is a diversity of political opinions at Facebook and plenty of people who would not describe themselves as conservatives. My own long-held political views have been a subject of public record for years.

Clegg is the former Leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrat party. He says, “I am a liberal.”

While we err on the side of free speech, there are critical exceptions: we don’t allow content that might encourage offline harm or is intended to intimidate, exclude or silence people.

I am not sure whether Clegg understands that excluding and silencing conservatives is what this controversy is all about.

And we work to slow and reduce the spread of content like debunked hoaxes and clickbait by downranking it in News Feed.

Really? The number one debunked hoax of our time is the Trump/Russia fraud. Are accusations against the president related to this hoax being downranked by Facebook? It would be useful to know the answer to that question.

Corinne Weaver at Newsbusters is unimpressed by today’s report:

Facebook released its official report about accusations of bias from conservatives — only it bears no resemblance to the similar audit it did for the left. The company didn’t actually admit conservative concerns about censorship were valid in the new report.

Former Arizona Republican Senator Jon Kyl released his long-awaited report on Facebook August 20, along with an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. The eight-page report paled in comparison to the 27-page liberal audit spearheaded by Laura Murphy of the ACLU and the George-Soros-funded group Color of Change. For the eight policy changes Facebook made for liberal demands, only one policy change was made that actually addresses conservative demands.
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The conservative report was introduced with a neutral commentary from Nick Clegg, VP of Global Affairs and Communications. By contrast, COO Sheryl Sandberg introduced the far-left analysis with a full-throated endorsement.
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The conservative audit interviewed 133 conservative figures and organizations to discover what needed to change about Facebook. Fifteen major concerns were voiced, including the lack of conservatives on Facebook’s board of directors, the lack of viewpoint diversity at Facebook, the appeals process, and the unexplained takedown of content like quotes from the Bible and the Declaration of Independence.

Facebook “identified some areas where it could make progress or commit to changes immediately.” But none of these solutions solved the problems mentioned by conservatives.

Weaver notes that the Free Speech Alliance, a group of more than 50 organizations, has given a list of demands to social media platforms, including Facebook:

These included: 1) more transparency in order to see if the left and the right are receiving the same treatment. 2) clarity on what “hate speech” is, 3) equal footing for conservatives, and 4) a standard that mirrors the First Amendment. None of these demands were met or addressed by Facebook in the audit.

I have signed on to this effort on behalf of the organization I lead, Center of the American Experiment. So far, Weaver is correct in noting that “none of these solutions [in today’s report] solved the problems mentioned by conservatives.”

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