Facebook releases first results of Republican-led investigation into its ‘anti-conservative bias’ (but raises more questions than it answers)
- A report says Facebook should do more to address conservatives concerns
- The ‘independent’ study comes from former Republican senator Jon Kyle
- Concerns from conservatives center on its algorithm, ad practices, and more
- Generally conservatives complained of a liberal bias from the company
- The report recommends more transparency into news ranking and ad practices
A study of Facebook’s alleged censorship of conservative speech says there’s ‘work to be done’ in assuaging right-leaning users’ concerns.
The report, which was carried out by former Republican congressman, Jon Kyl and a team from law firm Covington and Burling, interviewed more than 130 ‘leading conservative politicians’ and organizations in an attempt to assess the impact of Facebook’s evolving policies on conservative speech.
This release is an interim version of what will eventually be a more in-depth report from the group.
According to Kyl, however, the platform still has a long way to go in addressing conservatives’ sentiments.
A report from a former Republican senator says Facebook isn’t going far enough to prevent the suppression of conservative viewpoints. File photo
‘Facebook has recognized the importance of our assessment and has taken some steps to address the concerns we uncovered,’ wrote Kyl.
‘But there is still significant work to be done to satisfy the concerns we heard from conservatives.’
Among the major areas of concern from conservatives interviewed by Kyl were issues with the company’s algorithms, specifically the fear that they disproportionately suppress conservative content.
Those concerns center primarily on a shift in 2018 that led Facebook to begin weeding out ‘borderline’ and ‘extreme’ content while promoting content from users’ friends.
Conservatives say that this switch adversely affected groups and news outlets that promoted a right-leaning ideology.
Similarly, Kyl’s report also highlights concerns that Facebook’s efforts to combat fake news have favored fact-checkers on the ‘ideological left.’
‘In particular, interviewees pointed to examples of instances when some of the third-party fact-checkers utilized by Facebook at various times (e.g., Snopes, PolitiFact, Factcheck.org, the Associated Press)—which are certified by the Poynter Institute, an entity that owns PolitiFact—have skewed to the ideological Left,’ reads the report.
Efforts to include conservative groups in that process, Kyl says, also haven’t gone far enough.
‘We note that Facebook has accepted fact-checkers affiliated with conservative publishers, including the Daily Caller’s fact-checking unit once it was approved by Poynter,’ reads the report.
‘Before that, the Weekly Standard had previously been accepted into the program, but it subsequently shut down.’
Throughout the last two years, Facebook has come under fire for breached in privacy as well as its role in a Russian disinformation campaign meant to sway US elections.
The wide-ranging list of grievances also honed in on Facebook’s enforcement of certain ad policies which removed anti-abortion ads that depicted a premature baby as well as the platform’s policy on hate speech.
According to Kyl, conservatives found that the enforcement of ‘highly subjective.’
‘Interviewees often pointed out the highly subjective nature of determining what constitutes “hate”—an assessment that may be subject to the biases of content reviewers,’ reads the report.
‘The term “hate speech” is itself controversial, insofar as it may incorrectly ascribe motive in many cases.’
The report recommends a host of changes to Facebook to address concerns from conservative groups like making its fact-checking and content removal process more transparent, as well as providing greater detail on how its ranks news and prioritizes content.
An assessment of Facebook’s treatment of conservative media and politicians comes amid a similar inquiry into practices at Google where ex-employees have claimed that the company
While Facebook works to settle on a politically neutral policy of prioritizing and relaying content, it has been under increasing pressure to stem the effects of disinformation after revelations that Russian actors leverage the platform to sway U.S. elections.
Lawmakers feel a similar campaign could be underfoot ahead of upcoming presidential elections in 2020.
HOW DOES FACEBOOK PLAN TO IMPROVE PRIVACY?
In a March 6 blog post, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised to rebuild based on six ‘privacy-focused’ principles:
- Private interactions
- Reducing permanence
- Secure data storage
Zuckerberg promised end-to-end encryption for all of its messaging services, which will be combined in a way that allows users to communicate across WhatsApp, Instagram Direct, and Facebook Messenger.
This he refers to as ‘interoperability.’
He also said moving forward, the firm won’t hold onto messages or stories for ‘longer than necessary’ or ‘longer than people want them.’
This could mean, for example, that users set messages to auto-delete after a month or even a few minutes.
‘Interoperability’ will ensure messages remain encrypted even when jumping from one messaging service, such as WhatsApp, to another, like Instagram, Zuckerberg says.
Facebook also hopes to improve users’ trust in how it stores their data.
Zuckerberg promised the site ‘won’t store sensitive data in countries with weak records on human rights like privacy and freedom of expression in order to protect data from being improperly accessed.’