BAILEY T. STEEN | WEDNESDAY, MAY 16, 2018
FACEBOOK wants to be trusted. Under intense pressure from Capitol Hill, forced to protect users from partisan memes like “fake news” and data miners like Cambridge Analytica, the Trump-linked former advertising firm that stole the personal information of 80 million Facebook users, the big tech giant now wants to show conservatives claims of liberal bias is unfounded.
According to Axios, Facebook has now enlisted two advisers to conduct an investigation into whether the site engages in unethical practice that negatively impacts citizens and, specifically, right-wing content creators:
“Kyl will examine concerns about alleged liberal bias on Facebook, internally and on its services. They will get feedback directly from conservative groups and advise Facebook on the best way to work with these groups moving forward.”
Regarding civil rights, one investigation being led by activist Laura Murphy, the President of Laura Murphy & Associates and former director of the ACLU, working alongside the law firm Relman, Dane & Colfax to determine constitutional breaches. The liberal bias audit, however, is being headed up by former GOP Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), currently ranked by Heritage Action as one of the country’s most conservative senators during his near 20 years in office (1995 to 2013).
This, apparently, is the ideal person the company thought best to decide whether Facebook is “too liberal”, set to guide fellow lobbyists from the Covington and Burling law firm during their whole investigation.
During his revolving door career, willing to play politician or lobbyist depending on where the money trail leads, the former minority whip has falsely claimed that “over 90 percent” of funds made to Planned Parenthood goes towards abortion services while debated statistics suggest it’s between either 3 percent or 37 percent.
“Everybody goes to clinics,” the senator told Congress, “to hospitals, to doctors, and so on. Some people go to Planned Parenthood. But you don’t have to go to Planned Parenthood to get your cholesterol or your blood pressure checked. If you want an abortion, you go to Planned Parenthood, and that’s well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.” According to VICE, his office backtracked by saying his assertion was “not intended to be a factual statement”, but rather something provocative just to get people’s attention.
Now wants to lecture the public on “fake news”? Go figure.
Kyl also happens to have an authors page on Breitbart, the hard-right publication praising his investigation, where he rallied readers to support further sanctions on the Iranian government to prevent “attacks against Israel”. It was two years later The Pentagon announced the Israeli government, supported by the U.S. in over 3 billion dollars in aid per year, has their own nuclear weapons program despite not signing the non-proliferation treaty, the peace agreement to deescalate potential nuclear warfare.
But it doesn’t stop at some alternative facts with Kyle. The former senator and lobbyist has also been a staunch advocate against policies such as universal healthcare, implement across every industrialised nation, and sided with former President Bill Clinton in deregulation of big tech in 1996’s telecommunications act, all the while OpenSecrets lists big pharmaceutical industries (60 percent) and big electronics groups (9.5 percent) as major donors during his career.
Establishment fox, meet the hen house. Granted, one biased inquisitor isn’t a deal breaker. Surely Facebook’s internal bias audits on bias aren’t littered with biased actors — except it is. Axios goes on to report Facebook executives will now hold meetings with key members from the Heritage Foundation, the hard right-wing think-tank, to propose reforms to the site.
In case I’ve lost you, consider this: a biased right-wing group will now propose policies to stop biased algorithms from censoring their biased opinions on biased platforms — all the while the investigation into bias is being lead by a GOP lackey from a lobby firm tied to Eric Holder, the former attorney general under Barack Obama, both of which endorsing the political candidate responsible for the popular “fake news” meme in Hillary Clinton.
You see why this mess could prove to be a dishonest problem? As they say, two biased wrongs don’t make an honest right, and throwing more biased parties into the swamp isn’t going to change that.
Alleged liberal bias has loomed over Facebook for years. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said there is “no evidence” that Facebook staff suppresses conservative stories, and this seems consistent with the rationale behind algorithm changes.
From Adam Mosseri, the head of Facebook’s News Feed feature, the decision to prioritize posts from friends and family above political pages and news appears to be an apolitical decision that, in effect, has served a political blow to the conservative media who thrive off internet audiences.
TrigTent recently cited a recent study from The Outline showing these changes have significantly hurt the traffic of highly popular right-wing media rags like Fox News and Breitbart. Engagements from establishment alternatives like CNN and The New York Times, however, have unexpectedly risen over the past few months.
The New York Times
Understandably one could think this is based on politics. Tucker Carlson described it on Fox News as “ideological warfare.” Right-wing outlets affected, from Breitbart, The Blaze, and conspiracy peddlers like Gateway Pundit and InfoWars, have framed the changes as sinister political plots. And Facebook aren’t dispelling this narrative considering recent comments from Zuckerberg that suggest future “rankings” on news outlets, an act that would editorialise the platform they allege is a “neutral” public forum.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has railed against Facebook for violating existing regulations that forbid Facebook from exercising political preferences over users’ content, and he’s right to do this. The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro echoed similar comments telling Politico “Facebook needs to be held to public account for its constant manipulation of what its users are seeing.”
Once again, he’s right to say there should be accountability for shadow-banning, unsubstantiated reasons for content/page removal and serving establishment goals that maintain the monopoly. But can this be done when you’ve put the establishment actors in charge of overseeing it? With scandal upon scandal, what makes Facebook the best judge as to who should watch over them? Kyl and company could win back conservative trust, but until independent watchmen are in charge, it’s all just political theatre.
Thanks for reading!
Bailey T. Steen is a journalist, editor, artist and film critic based in Victoria, Australia, but is also Putin’s Puppet™ on occasion.
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