SAN JOSE, California, May 2, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – In a move all-but guaranteed to intensify fears over political censorship, Facebook plans to begin ranking news organizations by their perceived trustworthiness, and impacting their traffic accordingly.
Mark Zuckerberg, the social media giant’s founder and CEO, revealed the plan Tuesday in a private gathering of news media executives during Facebook’s second annual F8 developer conference, BuzzFeed reports. The meeting included representatives from BuzzFeed, The New York Times, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, NBC, Univision, The Daily Beast, HuffPost, The Atlantic, The New York Post, and more.
Zuckerberg told the reporters that Facebook has started to factor data on how much consumers trust various news brands into its algorithms that determine how many people their articles reach, and that the company intends to take the process even further.
That data “is acting as a boost or a suppression, and we’re going to dial up the intensity of that over time,” he explained. “We feel like we have a responsibility to further [break] down polarization and find common ground.”
“It’s not useful if someone’s just kind of repeating the same thing and attempting to polarize or drive people to the extremes,” he added, according to HuffPost.
Zuckerberg also said that Facebook plans to invest “billions” into improving artificial intelligence and hiring more human moderators, ostensibly to block “fake news” and election interference by foreign governments. He framed it as a principled stand that would mean “losing money on doing political ads.”
He cited elections in France and Alabama as examples of where Facebook has deployed its new news-vetting initiatives. Last month, the company also revealed that it plans to use Ireland’s May 25 abortion referendum as a testing ground for additional tools.
Zuckerberg’s latest comments follow his Capitol Hill testimony last month, in which several Republican lawmakers confronted him over numerous instances of Facebook improperly censoring conservative, pro-life, and Christian content. Zuckerberg claimed each example was a simple error that didn’t represent a broader, intentional bias.
During those hearings, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, pointed out to Zuckerberg that transitioning from a “platform for all ideas” to a platform that exercises subjective judgement over good and bad content could potentially put Facebook on a collision course with a provision of the federal Communication Decency Act that says platforms must be “neutral public forums” if they wish to avoid liability for the content they publish.
Zuckerberg touched on the subject during Tuesday’s remarks. “If we didn’t have that [Section 230], I wouldn’t have been able to start Facebook,” he said. But “we’re in a different place” now, thanks to Facebook having the technology and manpower to control content on their website.
Conservative commentators, already critical of Facebook’s censorship practices and traffic suppression, have met the news with suspicion. Western Journal’s Scott Kelnhofer warned that the central problem with Zuckerberg’s plan is that “someone other than you is going to be determining who you should trust.”
“It’s a challenge to even begin wrapping your head around how many alarm bells should be going off right now,” Hot Air’s Jazz Shaw said. He argued that Facebook’s method of “just asking users who are willing to take a survey what they feel about the various sites and whether or not they trust them” will result in each side giving “zero trust” scores to the opposite side’s publications, after which the “only winner in this game will be the ideological side which gets to submit more survey responses and the final ‘score’ will mean essentially nothing.”
Further, Shaw predicted that the limitations of artificial intelligence would require human moderators who “bring their own biases and preferences to the table” to perform the bulk of the vetting. “Somebody is going to get burned (and ‘suppressed’) and it’s a safe bet that it will be conservatives, based on Facebook’s recent track record,” he warned.
“There should be no doubt left. Facebook is determined to shut out conservative pro-Trump voices,” wrote conservative blogger Jim “Gateway Pundit” Hoft, whose own website saw a steep traffic decline after Facebook’s algorithm change last fall. “Where the hell is the GOP?”
However, conservatives aren’t the only ones expressing alarm.
Vice News’ David Gilbert quoted New York Times managing editor Joseph Kahn as telling Zuckerberg that public feedback was an unreliable metric, as well as Vice’s west coast editor Harry Cheadle declaring that “news organizations should be screaming bloody murder” if Facebook doesn’t publicly release its trust rankings.
The Atlantic website editor Adrienne LaFrance, who attended the meeting, walked away with the conclusion that Zuckerberg either “doesn’t understand journalism” or “doesn’t care.”
“Deciding what to believe based on other people’s opinions is not only not journalistic, it’s arguably hostile to the press as a democratic institution,” she wrote. “The truth may be nuanced, but reportable facts are often quite straightforward.”
The day before Zuckerberg’s comments, Facebook set off another brief firestorm by activating a “does this post contain hate speech?” option beneath everything from reports and op-eds to status updates and pet photos. The feature was deactivated after twenty minutes, after which the company said it was an internal test that accidentally went public.