Yesterday, my friend Steven Crowder promised that he would not stand idly by after the Gizmodo exposé of Facebook’s suppression of conservative points of view in its trending topics. Today, Steven announced his next move — a legal demand from Facebook for its records relating to curation and editorial actions. Steven says that the action was “a long time coming,” but that Gizmodo’s report made it all the more urgent to act now:
The Gizmodo.com story coincides with, and now potentially provides an explanation for, Facebook’s mismanagement of payments made to Facebook by Mr. Crowder and its woefully biased and unprofessional treatment of his accounts during an ongoing billing dispute. Simultaneously, Facebook has chosen to avoid any transparency in the ongoing removal of certain political posts by Mr. Crowder, ignoring all requests for explanation of purported policy violations. These issues have been ignored by Facebook and its Legal Department despite repeated attempts to resolve the issue on his behalf. Facebook’s ongoing refusal to take action regarding their clear-cut, inexcusable financial errors has necessitated that preliminary legal steps be taken.
It is fully understood that Facebook has every right to curate any content they so desire on their platform. However, Facebook’s bullying methods of operation in tandem with both the long-standing evidence of misconduct and the allegations newly brought to light require further investigation given the direct financial ramifications on business clients acting in trust with Facebook.
It’s unclear to what extent Facebook will feel compelled to comply with a pre-lawsuit demand for discovery, but at least it gets the dispute with those alleged to be directly harmed into the judicial arena. That’s one arena, but it’s not the only one. In my column today for The Week, I argue that conservatives should fight in all arenas — even on Facebook — rather than cooperate with the attempts at marginalization:
In the wake of these allegations, discussion among conservatives on social media turned to questions of why conservative sites bother with Facebook at all. Should conservatives just dump Facebook?
No. This would be a terrible mistake. Facebook is enormous. Nearly three in five American adults have a Facebook account. Failing to be part of Facebook would only make conservatism more insular than it already is.
But an even more compelling reason to engage is this: Pulling out is exactly what liberal Facebook “curators” want. They wanted to banish conservatives from the platform, or failing that, to make them as irrelevant as possible. Why cooperate with that? Conservatives should use the open platform of Facebook and other social-media networks to engage people, make connections, and use those networks to expand the reach and relevance of the conservative agenda.
Conservatives have been here before, lets not forget. We’ve been dealing with editorial bias for decades, and have only been able to break free from the gatekeepers by engaging and exposing them. Bernard Goldberg wrote about this in his seminal book Bias, and how both deliberate and unconscious bias impacted the news that traditional media presented us, both in presentation and by omission. Facebook’s actions are particularly dishonest, though, as they never disclosed that curation and editorial intervention existed in its trending-topics index.
Some of this is on consumers, though:
Never before have consumers had this much access and choice in news sources — and with it the ability to defeat the editorial gatekeepers and gain a balanced and informed perspective. Relying only on Facebook is akin to reading only the hometown newspaper and believing it contains all the news that’s fit to print. Instead of trusting a social media network to make those choices, consumers should exercise their own choices — and call out those gatekeepers when their biases become so obvious as to be insulting.
And the only way to expose that is to remain engaged — and maybe flood the zone so that those biases become even more apparent.
Update: Congressional oversight is definitely not the way to proceed, however:
“If Facebook presents it’s Trending Topics section as the result of a neutral, objective algorithm, but it is in fact subjective and filtered to support or suppress particular political viewpoints, Facebook’s assertion that it maintains a ‘platform for people and perspectives from across the political spectrum’ misleads the public,” Senate Commerce Committee chairman John Thune, R-S.D., wrote in a Tuesday letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. …
“Facebook must answer these serious allegations and hold those responsible to account if there has been political bias in the dissemination of trending news,” Thune said in a statement accompanying the letter. “Any attempt by a neutral and inclusive social media platform to censor or manipulate political discussion is an abuse of trust and inconsistent with the values of an open Internet.”
To put this politely, that’s nonsense. Facebook is not the Internet, but is content on the Internet. It falls under precisely zero points of federal regulation; it’s a widely used but voluntary association, answerable to no federal agencies. Ergo, Congress has no business butting in. Conservatives have plenty of market power on their own to challenge this abuse, and should have no appetite for the camel’s nose of speech regulation to enter into this tent.