Facebook Audit Fails to Address Conservative Censorship Concerns

August 20th, 2019 12:52 PM

Facebook released its official report about accusations of bias from conservatives — only it bears no resemblance to the similar audit it did for the left. The company didn’t actually admit conservative concerns about censorship were valid in the new report

Former Arizona Republican Senator Jon Kyl released his long-awaited report on Facebook August 20, along with an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. The eight-page report paled in comparison to the 27-page liberal audit spearheaded by Laura Murphy of the ACLU and the George-Soros-funded group Color of Change. For the eight policy changes Facebook made for liberal demands, only one policy change was made that actually addresses conservative demands. 

In his op-ed, Kyl wrote, “Over time, many conservatives lost trust in Facebook, believing it discriminated against them.” This set the tone for the audit, which addressed conservative concerns of bias as merely a belief, not fact. 

The conservative report was introduced with a neutral commentary from Nick Clegg, VP of Global Affairs and Communications. By contrast, COO Sheryl Sandberg introduced the far-left analysis with a full-throated endorsement.

“The civil rights audit is deeply important to me, and it’s one of my top priorities for 2019. I’m committed to overseeing its progress and making sure that it is a well-resourced, cross-company effort,” wrote Sandberg in December. 

Contrast that with the non-endorsement of conservative complaints by Clegg: “But even if we could craft [speech policies] in a way that pleased all sides, when dealing with such nuanced issues, involving policies that apply to billions of posts, we will inevitably make some bad calls, some of which may appear to strike harder at conservatives.”

For conservatives, Facebook made a small tweak to its ad policy about “sensational content.” It will now allow medical tubes to be shown in ads, which will allegedly make it easier for pro-life organizations to post ads. However, according to Axios, “Facebook will still prohibit these types of ads if the ad shows someone in visible pain or distress or where blood and bruising is visible.” 

Very few of conservatives’ actual concerns were voiced in the audit. Facebook bans guns and gun sales, and has censored videos about guns on the platforms. This was not mentioned in the audit. The wording of some of the concerns was made to look as if conservatives believed things that were not true. 

One concern was worded this way: “Many interviewees believed that Facebook is a liberal organization with liberal employees, making interviewees skeptical that the platform’s policies are fairly written and enforced.” Facebook is run by Mark Zuckerberg, who promoted liberal values over conservative values in trending topics. The New York Times published a story about the handful of conservative employees protesting the intolerant “political monoculture.” Zuckerberg himself said that Silicon Valley is an “extremely left-leaning place.”

On the other hand, eight different policies were made and announced with the second civil rights audit, released on June 30. These included:

A policy around census information

A policy around political advertising

A permanent civil rights task force, which will examine content policy, privacy, and elections

A third civil rights audit is slated for release in 2020. 

The conservative audit interviewed 133 conservative figures and organizations to discover what needed to change about Facebook. Fifteen major concerns were voiced, including the lack of conservatives on Facebook’s board of directors, the lack of viewpoint diversity at Facebook, the appeals process, and the unexplained takedown of content like quotes from the Bible and the Declaration of Independence. 

Facebook “identified some areas where it could make progress or commit to changes immediately.” But none of these solutions solved the problems mentioned by conservatives. Senator Kyl pointed out, “Facebook’s policies and their application have the potential to restrict free expression . . . this is a danger that must be taken very seriously.” In his Wall Street Journal op-ed, Kyl expanded, “Restoring trust fully may remain an elusive goal.”

The Free Speech Alliance, a coalition of more than 50 organizations led by the Media Research Center, made a list of demands for social media companies. These included: 1) more transparency in order to see if the left and the right are receiving the same treatment. 2) clarity on what “hate speech” is, 3) equal footing for conservatives, and 4) a standard that mirrors the First Amendment. None of these demands were met or addressed by Facebook in the audit. 

Other changes offered by Facebook to address conservative concerns included hiring four people “exclusively devoted to working with smaller organizations to resolve questions and complaints about content decisions.” The announcement of an oversight board was also supposed to solve some problems; however, conservatives are not inclined to trust the oversight board — especially one that will be international in scope.