August 20, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – An internal auditing team commissioned by Facebook has released its first report, which presents a comprehensive overview of conservative concerns about the social media giant but little in the way of admitting any wrongdoing.
Last year, Facebook enlisted former Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, to lead a team from the Washington, D.C. law firm Covington & Burling to conduct an internal review to address allegations of anti-conservative bias and recommend changes to Facebook’s policies. Some expressed doubts about how rigorous the audit would be in light of the fact that Covington & Burling happens to be the law firm in which Eric Holder, Barack Obama’s former Attorney General, is a partner.
On Tuesday morning, Facebook released Kyl’s interim report detailing the progress and findings of the audit so far. “Facebook gave us total independence to interview persons and organizations of our choosing,” Kyl assured readers, “and we were given complete freedom to reach any conclusions based on those conversations and offer suggestions for improvement of its platform without any interference.”
He explained that his team has interviewed 133 “key conservative organizations, individuals, and lawmakers who either use, study, or have the potential to regulate Facebook” and relayed their feedback to the company.
The most thorough section of the report consists of relaying conservatives’ various concerns. They include left-wing bias in Facebook’s News Feed algorithm, “fact-checking” and “false news” practices, its “hate speech” and “hate organization” labels, disproportionate flagging of conservative for potential Community Standards or advertising policy violations, difficulty navigating Facebook’s appeals process, its standards for registering and categorizing advertisers as “political,” and a distinct lack of political diversity among Facebook’s workforce and Board of Directors.
However, the report presents all of the above as the perceptions of conservatives, and contains no verdict as to whether Facebook is innocent or guilty on any of it, nor any admission of bias on Facebook’s part.
The report lists several policy changes that Facebook has pledged to make in response to conservative criticism, mostly in the realm of “transparency,” i.e., better explaining their content decisions. They also pledged that the oversight board they previously promised to create will contain a “diverse range of intellectual viewpoints,” and will make its appeals process available for more types of content.
Most concretely, Facebook will no longer prohibit “advertisements showing medical tubes connected to the human body,” a restriction that has previously “resulted in the rejection of pro-life ads focused on survival stories of infants born before full term.” Beyond that, however, Facebook’s “changes and commitments” do not include adjusting their algorithms or re-evaluating their “hate” designations.
Other controversies not covered by the report include this year’s revelations that Facebook “deboosts” traffic to several mainstream conservative sites, its ban on so much as posting links to political figures Facebook deems “dangerous,” why it has allowed violent left-wing content such as “jokes” about President Donald Trump’s death, or the company’s self-appointed role as a guard against content it deems “election interference.”
Kyl concluded the report by pledging that as the audit continues it will give Facebook a “clear-eyed, fair, and unflinchingly candid assessment of how its policies and practices may disadvantage conservatives. We look forward to continuing to work with Facebook and the conservative community to ensure that free speech is protected for all Facebook users.”
Whatever may come of future reports, many argue that it’s too late to wait for Big Tech to fix itself.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai told Congress this summer he considers “unregulated Silicon Valley tech giants” today’s “greatest threat to a free and open internet.” The president announced that he was “directing my Administration to explore all regulatory and legislative solutions to tech censorship,” after which the Justice Department announced a broad antitrust investigation into the country’s top internet companies.
Lawmakers including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, have also advocated requiring social media platforms to certify their political neutrality in order to remain exempted from potential legal liability for what they allow users to post.
Despite the mildness of the report, the far-left Media Matters (MMFA) assailed it as an example of Facebook displaying an “impulse to appease right-wing cries of bias” that will somehow lead to the social network “amplifying lies and enabling extremists.” MMFA claims “data doesn’t exist” indicating Facebook’s left-wing bias, and that its own “studies of hundreds of Facebook pages” show that “at every point, left-wing and right-wing pages had similar interaction rates.”
MMFA neglects to mention that multiple analyses have found that Facebook’s algorithm changes instituted at the beginning of 2018 disproportionately impacted conservative politicians and websites, or that former Facebook employees admitted in 2016 that the platform “routinely” manipulated its trending news feature to exclude topics of interest to conservatives.