Despite assurances by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in Washington and in the European Parliament in Brussels that his social media platform is open to all political ideologies, the Republican Party isn't so sure.
On Tuesday, MEP Nigel Farage told Zuckerberg that since Facebook changed its algorithms earlier this year, many right-of-center commentators who advocate mainstream opinions have experienced a drastic reduction in traffic on their Facebook pages.
Farage implied that his own online 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."
To Farage, Zuckerberg insisted that Facebook is a neutral platform without political content bias.
In this context, Zuckerberg faced similar inquiries from some GOP senators last month on Capitol Hill, particularly about the Facebook status of the irreverent, pro-Trump siblings Diamond and Silk. The North Carolina sisters claimed that starting about six months ago, traffic on their popular Facebook page dropped precipitously, millions of followers were no longer receiving notifications, and they were subsequently deemed "unsafe to the community."
During his D.C. testimony, Zuckerberg admitted that 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 unsafe designation was a mistake by the Facebook enforcement team.
Yesterday, Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and Trump digital guru Brad Parscale, who is the president's 2020 campaign manager, wrote a 10-paragraph letter to Zuckerberg and his Twitter counterpart Jack Dorsey seeking answers about how they will guarantee that content will be transparently managed equally and fairly. They requested a response to their concerns by June 18, Fox News Insider reported. The letter itself was also released on Twitter.
"..Concerns have been raised in recent years about suppression of conservative speech on Facebook and Twitter, including censorship of conservative news stories from news feeds and 'trending' news sections. We are alarmed by numerous allegations that Facebook has blocked content from conservative journalists and groups, and Twitter has hidden such content from conservative users' followers...McDaniel, along with Parscale, discussed the censorship issue on Fox & Friends yesterday morning. The duo revealed that in their travels on behalf of the GOP, along with electronic feedback from constituency groups and individuals, perceived suppression of conservative content is a prime topic, Gateway Pundit reported, especially with the November 2018 congressional elections just around the corner.
"We recognize that Facebook and Twitter operate in liberal corporate cultures. However, rampant political bias is inappropriate for a widely used public forum...As you conduct reviews to assess bias against conservative content, we ask for your assurances that transparency, neutrality, and protection of all speech will be core tenets of Facebook and Twitter operations, now and in the future."
"Brad and I hear it all the time as we're traveling the country. People are very concerned that conservative voices are going to be suppressed on social media. Of course, many of their users are conservatives and so Brad and I feel preemptively, we have to get out ahead of this, talk to Facebook, talk to Twitter, ask them for transparency, let us know what you're going to do to make sure that every voice has a say on these social media platforms especially before this critical midterm."Continued Parscale, in putting Facebook and Twitter on notice.
"Every day I receive thousands of messages saying, 'I'm being shadow-banned.' And what we want to do in this letter is make sure that we understand what's happening. We want to ask them for transparency. I think the public deserves that transparency, and we need to know that conservative voices have a chance to get their message out. This is a big problem."In addition to McDaniel's reference to the thought police, a concept created by George Orwell in his world-famous novel 1984, Parscale added the following.
"Let's be very honest. They live in a liberal bubble in northern California…the companies, the employees. We saw this during the 2016 campaign, where they were manually manipulating the trends, we've seen this with the algorithm changes, we've seen reductions in Trump's reach on the platform -- 25, 30, even 40 percent reach decrease. And I want to make sure they're done evenly, fairly."As alluded to above, 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 previously-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.
The Silicon Valley organizations have denied that they are suppressing content for political reasons, but software engineer James Damore's lawsuit against Google may suggest otherwise.Facebook, Twitter, and other such entities are private corporations, and as such, they can set up their own rules, and in general, the First Amendment does not apply. Once they position themselves as open, non-discriminatory content venues, however, that changes the game entirely.
Against this backdrop, in a study of 50 online publishers released in March, The Western Journal concluded that modifications to Facebook's news feeds have adversely affected conservative publishers' 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 outlets.
Parenthetically, according to The Daily Caller, Amazon has dropped one or more conservative groups from its affiliate program.
For somewhat different reasons, there have been calls across the political spectrum, on the left and the right, for Facebook and other "Big Social" platforms to be regulated along the lines of a public utility.
Watch the two GOP officials discuss alleged social media censorship on FNC in the clip below and draw your own conclusions.Added: Donald Trump Jr. claims Facebook-owned Instagram is shadow banning him and that one person searching his name received a threatening message.