Facebook Upgrade Raises Questions About Network Favoring Liberal Groups

May 25th, 2011 11:44 AM

A software upgrade at Facebook has some conservative groups worried that their hard-earned followings might be rendered useless. The upgrade will "archive" all existing Facebook groups, thereby revoking administrators' access to member lists, unless they receive an exemption from Facebook (and the accompanying software).

The company has not revealed how groups are being chosen for these exemptions, but a number of prominent conservative groups recently told the Daily Caller that they had not received one, and feared they wouldn't. Losing access to member lists would remove key functionality, as administrators would no longer be able to contact group members en masse (Facebook "pages" will not be affected).

Facebook insisted in a statement that the company "determined what groups to archive based on a number of factors, including the amount of recent activity."But a quick look at a few of the groups that did and did not get these exemptions demonstrates that neither activity nor group size was the overriding factor. Indeed, plenty of conservative-leaning political groups with active memberships are still waiting on the software given to smaller, far less active liberal-leaning groups.

Concerns about political favoritism are no doubt rooted in a recognition that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the company he runs both have liberal political streaks. Zuckerberg has publicly declared himself an Obama supporter. Chris Hedges, one of the site's co-founders, managed the Obama campaign's online organizing.

The Daily Caller reported Tuesday on some of the groups that have and have not recceived the software that will keep their groups functional:

“Who is being given the upgrade?” asked Pamela Geller, the New York organizer of a 15,000-member group opposed to Islamist political groups. Without the special key, groups lose access to their members, she said. “I’ve seen people really freaking out.”...

Geller’s “Stop Islamization of America” group has 15,062 members, but no upgrade-key, she said. If Facebook archives her group without allowing her to reach its members, she’ll have to rebuild the group from scratch, one e-mail at a time, she said. “I can’t just sit down and write a message to 15,000 members,” she said. “Why not just give us the upgrade option?”

“The Coalition to Save Marriage in New York” is a group of 1,163 social-conservatives seeking to preserve traditional marriage’s role as an institution for parents and child-rearing. The group has been very active this year trying to derail a gay-marriage push in the state assembly, but the group doesn’t have the upgrade, said the group’s administrator, Jason McGuire in Rochester, N.Y. “Nobody else that I know got one,” he said. “You do have to wonder if Facebook is leaning towards liberal positions, instead of being on open format,” he said.

Chicago libertarian activist Eric Odom has built an active 60,000-member group, but is not being offered an upgrade key.

While these conservative groups are still anxiously awaiting their exemptions to this new software upgrade, other left-leaning groups - in many cases considerably smaller than the ones listed above - have received the required software with little trouble.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence got the upgrade for its 1,000-member group. “We changed over very smoothly,” said David Churchill, the network-manager at the D.C.-based gun-control group. “We just basically clicked the upgrade button, checked it over, and we have a tremendous increase in participation,” he said.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s “GLAAD open group” also got an upgrade for its 300 members. The group’s administrator did not respond to TheDC’s emails.

The “Labor Express Radio” group also got the upgrade after its 104 members post on the site to demonstrate their activity. The group was established by “Chicago’s only English language labor news and current affairs radio program… [it] addresses issues of concern to working people such as housing, education, health care, immigrants rights, the environment and U.S. foreign policy.”

There is no evidence as yet that political considerations have played any part in Facebook's decisions. But the process's opacity, the political identities of the groups above, and Facebook's history of supporting liberal political causes is reason enough to stay mindful of the possibility.

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