In two days of being grilled on Capitol Hill on various issues, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg disavowed any allegations that his social media network subjectively manipulated algorithms or engaged in political bias to censor the content of conservatives or populist Trump supporters who may not fall under the typical conservative umbrella.
Zuckerberg testified before Congress in the context of rampant harvesting of personal data and privacy violations in the Cambridge Analytica scandal that has prompted demands across the ideological spectrum for Facebook to be regulated like a public utility. Zuckerberg has acknowledged that some form of regulatory framework may be appropriate, PBS detailed.
If you watched the proceedings and thought that some of his responses seemed pre-packaged, you may be correct. When Zuckerberg took a bathroom break, he apparently left his talking points in plain view, as various media outlets reported. Many political observers concluded that while Zuckerberg dodged giving specific answers to certain questions, federal lawmakers, in turn, did not impress with their grasp of the tech industry or the internet.
In the run-up to the hearings and perhaps bad timing for Zuckerberg, Facebook designated the popular and irreverent Trump-backing siblings Diamond and Silk as “unsafe to the community,” a determination which prompted repeated questioning from Republican lawmakers.
For example, when Zuckerberg talked about removing terrorism-related content from Facebook, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn fired back, “Diamond and Silk is not terrorism,” the Washington Free Beacon reported.
Associated Press photographer Andrew Harni got a clear shot of Zuckerberg's notes as he left the table during a break Tuesday. Some notable entries include how he should defend Facebook. "[If attacked: Respectfully, I reject that. Not who we are.] https://t.co/ybpMyhxlYM pic.twitter.com/pGN8wamVw6
— CBS News (@CBSNews) April 10, 2018
Lynette “Diamond” Hardaway and Rochelle “Silk” Richardson claim that they started getting the runaround from Facebook about six months ago when they noticed that traffic on their Facebook page, which they created in December 2014, dropped precipitously, and readers who have liked or followed their page were no longer receiving notifications of new posts
On day one of his testimony, Zuckerberg conceded under questioning from U.S. Senator Ted Cruz about Facebook allegedly suppressing conservative content that “Facebook and the tech industry are located in Silicon Valley, which is an extremely left-leaning place.”
Against that backdrop, the Facebook boss added that he has taken steps to root out any political bias among his staff engaged in content review, but he was unaware of any liberal- or Democrat-oriented page that had been blocked, the Daily Caller noted.
Ted Cruz asks if Facebook is a "neutral public forum". Mark Zuckerberg admits Silicon Valley is an "extremely left-leaning place" and claims he tries to make sure the company does not have a political bias. pic.twitter.com/gaWw7ORQDY
— Josh Caplan (@joshdcaplan) April 10, 2018
In his dialogue with Zuckerberg, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise made reference to a study of 50 online publishers released last month by the Western Journal which concluded that modifications to Facebook’s news feeds have adversely affected conservatives’ market share far more than liberals. The Outline came up with similar findings after Facebook adjusted the news feeds to de-emphasize content from news publishers. Zuckerberg insisted that the new algorithm was free of any political bias.
Zuckerberg also disputed an ex-Obama digital official’s boast that Facebook and the 2008 Obama presidential campaign were on the same side when it came to data mining.
Although Zuckerberg told Scalise that he was unfamiliar with the Diamond and Silk case, after presumably being prepped by staff, he later told another congressman that the Facebook enforcement team made an error and the decision, which was determined to be final, would be reversed, the Washington Times reported.
Diamond and Silk, two African-American sisters from North Carolina who have one million-plus followers, say that they haven’t heard anything directly from Facebook yet, however.
Just so you know; We have not communicated nor have we talk to Mark Zuckerberg or any @facebook Representative. Our last communication with FB was on Thursday, April 5, 2018, at 3:40pm when they emailed us and said:
"We Were Unsafe to the Community" pic.twitter.com/hA2GRtqHAS
— Diamond and Silk® (@DiamondandSilk) April 12, 2018
In a separate congressional hearing, U.S. Senator Tim Scott — while noting that he doesn’t always agree with the commentary from Diamond and Silk — wondered “What is it about two black women espousing their support of the president of the United States that makes them ‘unsafe’ for the community?…Tell me, if they were two African-American liberals espousing their views about a liberal political figure, would they too be considered ‘unsafe’? I don’t think they would.”
Earlier this afternoon in HELP Committee I discussed @Facebook censoring conservative views. Russians trying to influence our elections? Kick them off. People trying to incite violence and hate? Goodbye. But @DiamondAndSilk They are hardly "unsafe to the community". pic.twitter.com/ySfeqiJ0RO
— Tim Scott (@SenatorTimScott) April 10, 2018
Trump supporters and others have accused the progressive tech giants of engaging in censorship of right-wing websites and individuals (or those perceived as harboring conservative, libertarian, or populist leanings) through methods such as the above-referenced algorithm changes, or shadow banning, throttling, de-platforming, and de-monetization, or artificially trending or not trending certain topics. A number of personalities and blogs on the right have found themselves suspended for alleged hate speech or violations of terms of service under broad-brush or vague standards that they claim aren’t applied to their left-wing counterparts.
These allegations have been consistently denied by the Silicon Valley media corporations, such as Facebook under CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Update: Interviewed by FNC’s Laura Ingraham on Wednesday night, Diamond and Silk claimed that there are still restrictions placed on their Facebook page, and that they have yet to receive any feedback from Facebook.