POLUMBO: Facebook’s Anti-Conservative Bias is Hurting Our Democracy


Friday, April 13, 2018

If your company compromised customer information and got infiltrated by Russian hackers, would you be afraid to testify before Congress? Imagine how Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg feels right now.

During his recent appearance on the hill, Zuckerberg came under fire for his company’s mishaps, many of which have been covered extensively in the media — but Facebook was also finally called out for its censorship and anti-conservative bias, an issue the mainstream media has largely overlooked. Yet it’s real and it’s ugly: Facebook discourages conservative content, and sometimes censors it altogether.

In early February, Facebook made a major change to its algorithm, the program that determines what content shows up in your newsfeed. Their announcement suggested that the company would be prioritizing content from friends and family, and showing people fewer news articles.

Facebook’s algorithm has enormous power, because in the age of modern journalism, many media outlets rely on Facebook clicks for digital traffic. For example, popular sites like The Hill and The Independent (UK) get 33.7 and 43.7 percent of their traffic from social media respectively. So this new announcement from Facebook had news sites worried — but it turned out that only conservative outlets had cause to be concerned.

When Facebook said they would be showing people fewer news articles, they really just meant less conservative content. According to Western Journal, liberal publishers have seen a 2 percent increase in Facebook traffic since the algorithm change, but conservative outlets dropped by almost 15 percent. Popular conservative sites like The Daily Wire, The Blaze, and even the New York Post saw their Facebook traffic plummet — but liberal outlets like CNN, The Daily Beast, and Salon all saw a spike in visits to their sites. Zuckerberg has still insisted that Facebook is a “platform for all ideas” — but they sure aren’t acting like it.

Gizmodo reported that Facebook routinely suppressed conservative stories from their “trending news” list. They interviewed former Facebook employees, who said that stories about CPAC, Mitt Romney, and other conservative topics were all kept off of the list of trending news, even when they were generating enough Facebook traffic to otherwise qualify.

Senator Ted Cruz grilled Zuckerberg on this bias during his Senate testimony, and the CEO eventually acknowledged just how left-leaning a place Silicon Valley can be. Facebook has 15,000 to 20,000 people who work in “content review” — and it’s clear that they’re just as liberal as their environment.

Fox News personalities “Diamond and Silk” had their Facebook page with over 1 million followers censored, after Facebook deemed the middle-aged African American women “unsafe to the community.” This is just one example, but Facebook hasn’t been friendly to many prominent conservatives.

The company’s bias might seem pervasive, but it’s still easy to wonder what’s so significant about censorship on Facebook. After all, conservatives have Twitter, cable news, email and countless other ways to get out their message — right?

Actually, Facebook has become such a prevalent medium for political discussion that extreme infringements on conservative speech are dangerous for our democracy. The American political system relies upon an engaged and informed public, and citizens need to be exposed to both sides of most issues.

According to Pew, half of Americans get their news from Facebook — so it’s become an invaluable tool in our national discourse. Facebook has a moral and ethical responsibility to be non-partisan, and serve as a conduit for the free exchange of ideas that’s essential for a healthy democracy.

But Facebook is still a private company, and while they shouldn’t engage in bias, we can’t cave in to the conservatives who suddenly want to regulate Facebook into submission. If you believe like I do that private companies have 1st Amendment rights—i.e., that baker doesn’t have to bake gay wedding cakes—then you can’t simultaneously want to force Facebook to promote conservative content they disagree with. That’s called hypocrisy.

Yet that doesn’t mean we should just give up, and accept Facebook’s censorship of conservative content. If enough of their customers speak out, market forces can pressure Zuckerberg to change his company’s policies. If he still won’t, then maybe it’s time we switch to a different social media service. So conservatives can’t let Facebook endanger our democracy or get away with censorship — but we also shouldn’t betray our own principles.

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About Bradley Polumbo

Brad Polumbo is a student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is an outspoken critic of PC culture and a free-speech advocate. His focus is on cultural issues and civil liberties.

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