Facebook's consistent lack of transparency has helped fuel the pernicious notion that the company deliberately censors conservative views, and the problem has reached a boiling point. Now, the company is reportedly launching an internal probe of potential conservative bias, and it will be led by a man who's spread fake news that just won't die.
According to Axios, former US Sen Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, will lead the conservative bias audit along with a team at the law firm Covington and Burling. Axios writes:
- 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.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, will also hold meetings about the issue with Facebook executives, Axios reports.
Facebook confirmed the conservative bias audit in an email to Gizmodo. "Getting outside feedback will help us improve over time - ensuring that we can more effectively serve the people on Facebook," Joel Kaplan, the company's vice president of global policy, said in a statement.
The idea that Facebook has systematically tilted its service to penalise conservatives has been around for a long time and is fuelled by suspicions of tech companies being based in liberal regions of the US. In 2016, Gizmodo ran a report about "news curators" for Facebook's trending topics section admitting that they often suppressed conservative news.
That was not a directive by the company. But it sparked a US congressional inquiry, Facebook recklessly shut down the human-curated trending topics unit, and the great fake news reckoning of 2016 began.
All the while, conservatives have continued to claim they're being censored any time one of their posts doesn't get 50 million views or whatever. Most recently, House Judiciary Committee hearings were held to discuss the mind-numbing accusations made by conservative vloggers Diamond and Silk.
There's no evidence that any examples of conservative bias at Facebook are anything more than cherry-picked instances that fail to demonstrate a pattern of politically motivated censorship. But Facebook wants to get over this crap and move on. It especially understands that Republican lawmakers are its best hope at avoiding bothersome regulations - another good reason to believe Facebook's claims that it isn't intentionally targeting conservatives. But the question of how to put conservative concerns to rest is a difficult one.
In attempting to do so, Facebook has decided to hire Kyl, a prominent conservative and former senator, to lead this partnership. That makes sense, on paper. But while he was in office, Kyl very publicly spread the lie that performing abortions is "well over 90 per cent of what Planned Parenthood does".
Kyl made the remark on the US Senate floor in 2011 during intense debates over shutting down the government. Republicans wanted to strip funding from Planned Parenthood and they were willing to say anything to get it done.
Politifact concluded that the actual portion of Planned Parents services related to abortions is closer to three per cent, and the majority of its work is dedicated to preventative care. Still, Planned Parenthood remains a central target of anti-abortion activists.
Later, when confronted about the inaccuracy of the statement, Kyl's office released a statement saying that his comments on the floor were "not intended to be a factual statement but rather to illustrate that Planned Parenthood, an organisation that receives millions in taxpayer dollars, does subsidise abortions".
It's tough to say if Kyl's history makes him a dubious candidate for clearing up conservative bias concerns at Facebook or just the right man for the job. If you want to put a segment of the population at ease, you choose someone from that particular group to help get the facts straight.
For example, Facebook is also launching a civil rights audit to advise it on issues relating to the many demonstrable instances of housing discrimination that the company has allegedly enabled, as well as other civil rights issues. That audit will be led by Laura Murphy, former Director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington Legislative Office. A prominent Washington law firm with a deep history of working discrimination cases will handle the review of Facebook's service and internal operations. Civil rights advocates quickly praised the decision.
But Kyl's history with spreading conservative propaganda points raises the issue of what kind of recommendations he'll make to Facebook. After all, it's also trying to solve its fake news problem. A recommendation that Facebook just allow harmful conservative conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate to spread like wildfire would just exacerbate another problem.
The good news is, Kyl is a lobbyist, and probably won't be doing anything but giving Facebook a clean bill of health and recommending whatever works best Mark Zuckerberg.