Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg answered questions today in the Brussels-based European Parliament and had a notable exchange about censorship with Nigel Farage, the former leader of the U.K. Independence Party who is considered the architect of Brexit.
In this context, Zuckerberg faced similar inquiries from some GOP senators last month on Capitol Hill, particularly about the status of the irreverent, pro-Trump siblings Diamond and Silk. The North Carolina sisters claimed that six months ago, traffic on their Facebook page dropped precipitously and they were subsequently deemed “unsafe to the community.”
During his D.C. testimony, Zuckerberg admitted that the Silicon Valley is “an extremely left-leaning place,” but that Facebook has tried to take steps to root out any political bias among his content review staff. He eventually told the lawmakers that the Diamond and Silk designation was a mistake by the Facebook enforcement team
In his dialogue with Zuckerberg today, MEP Farage credited Facebook for enabling Brexit (the U.K. vote to leave the European Union), as well as the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, and the election of the populist, EU-skeptic coalition in Italy.
Describing himself as Facebook’s best client (at least on the other side of the Atlantic), Farage continued that since Facebook changed its algorithms earlier this year, many right-of-center commentators who advocate mainstream opinions have seen a profound slump in activity on their Facebook pages, Breitbart News reported. President Trump’s traffic has also apparently taken a nosedive.
Farage implied that his own engagement was down 25 percent this year while noting that many others who share a conservative, libertarian, or populist philosophy are “being willfully discriminated against.”
Farage then floated the possibility of regulation, but in a somewhat different way then has previously been proposed.
“I’m not generally somebody who calls for legislation on the international stage, but I’m beginning to wonder whether we need a social media bill of rights to basically protect free speech. I’m asking you today, very, very clearly that would you accept today that Facebook is not a platform for all ideas that is operated impartially?”
Mark Zuckerberg responded that Facebook is a neutral platform without political content bias, The Daily Caller reported.
“We are committed to being a platform for all ideas. That means we want to make it so that people can come to our ‘service’ and share any idea across the political spectrum. It’s very important to me that we’re a ‘service’ that allows for a wide variety of political discourse; we view that as a big part of our responsibility. I can commit to you here today that we… have never and will not make decisions about what content is allowed, or how we do ranking, on the basis of a political orientation…”
Zuckerberg added that the engagement level on some pages may have dropped because Facebook has emphasized family- and friends-related content rather than so-called public content.
Farage also questioned Zuckerberg about the need for more transparency about third-party fact-checkers.
“Zuckerberg has responded that fact checkers are and will be public and that they’ll be using different groups of people for each country,” Westmonster reported.
Against this backdrop, 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 those 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. The Trump cohort has also alleged that Silicon Valley only partners with liberal fact-checkers who advance a political agenda in the way they evaluate news.
Parenthetically, in a study of 50 online publishers released in March, The Western Journal 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.
Separately, according to the Financial Times, EU lawmakers were dissatisfied that Zuckerberg dodged many of their questions about the Cambridge Analytica scandal or compliance with new privacy regulations in the 90-minute session, or whether Facebook is engaged in anti-competitive monopolistic practices. The Facebook CEO may have to follow-up with written answers to their ongoing questions.
Watch the Mark Zuckerberg-Nigel Farage exchange in the clip below and draw your own conclusions.