Ted Cruz and Ben Sasse confront Mark Zuckerberg about political bias

Two clips thematically related from today’s Zuckerberg testimony. Sasse is eager to hear about “hate speech.” How does Facebook solve that problem? Zuckerberg reassures him that in due time they’ll have artificial intelligence to solve it, but that’s really no answer. Someone will have to teach AI what “hate” is. Would Kevin Williamson’s opinion that abortion should carry the death penalty constitute “hate speech” worthy of banning? What about the opinion that abortion is murder, irrespective of whether it should carry a penalty? Many arguments over “hate speech” are ultimately arguments over whether the minority that holds a controversial opinion is sufficiently small that that opinion can be excluded without too much fuss from the majority. Nazi opinions? Sure. “Babies should be killable up to the moment of birth”? Hmmm. “Businesses should have a right to refuse service for gay weddings, which offend God”? Double hmmm.

This is why, First Amendment aside, classical liberals recoil at the idea of “hate speech” laws. The debate over what rises to the level of prohibitable “hate” will be an endless rolling clusterfark inescapably shaped by the majoritarian preferences of a given moment. What Sasse is wrestling with here is what to do about that when you have a platform like Facebook that’s actually larger than a country but immune from free-speech laws because it’s a private entity. How will Czar Zuckerberg ensure that the politics of “hate” don’t end up marginalizing the disfavored conservative minority within his vast empire? Answer: AI. Quis custodiet ipsos robot custodes?

Cruz, who’s up for reelection, is more interested in specific examples of anti-conservative bias at Facebook. They do exist, famously so, although if you believe this Wired report from February, ironically it was Facebook’s sensitivity to perceptions that they were overly hard on right-wingers that led them to steer clear of policing political activity on the platform too closely during the 2016 election — which is what landed them in hot water now. A darkly amusing anecdote from that story, about the time Zuckerberg and Facebook invited a group of prominent conservatives for a royal audience:

According to a Facebook employee involved in planning the meeting, part of the goal was to bring in a group of conservatives who were certain to fight with one another. They made sure to have libertarians who wouldn’t want to regulate the platform and partisans who would. Another goal, according to the employee, was to make sure the attendees were “bored to death” by a technical presentation after Zuckerberg and Sandberg had addressed the group.

The power went out, and the room got uncomfortably hot. But otherwise the meeting went according to plan. The guests did indeed fight, and they failed to unify in a way that was either threatening or coherent. Some wanted the company to set hiring quotas for conservative employees; others thought that idea was nuts. As often happens when outsiders meet with Facebook, people used the time to try to figure out how they could get more followers for their own pages.

For an outfit that’s not so conservative, they seem to understand conservatives pretty well. By the way, the point of Cruz’s inquiry into political bias wasn’t just to earn brownie points with conservative viewers. He asked Zuckerberg today whether he considers Facebook to be a “neutral public forum.” That’s loaded language, as Cruz seems to believe that neutrality is a requirement in order for a platform to qualify for immunity from liability for user content under the Communications Decency Act. If Zuck says that Facebook is an NPF, Cruz can (and did) counter with examples of bias to the contrary. If Zuck says they aren’t, he has a problem under the CDA. Or so Cruz thinks: Other lawyers, some of whom I respect, think his reading of the CDA section is simply flat wrong.

Trending on Hotair Video