What lesson can we draw from the latest Project Veritas peek into Facebook’s content moderators? Perhaps the oldest lesson of all — power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Will anyone truly feel surprised to hear these bureaucratic functionaries chortling with glee over their control over other people’s political speech and the imposition of their own agendas over that of Facebook users?
“We are essentially in charge of what gets said and what gets stifled,” former moderator Zach McElroy tells James O’Keefe, and it’s very clear that they all know it:
In one example, McElroy captured as a screenshot, President Donald Trump posted on Facebook about Republican successes, including electing a GOP governor of Mississippi. In the screenshot, Trump’s account is labeled “Verified and Shielded,” but a seemingly innocuous comment on the post: “Cleaning up the house” with heart emojis is flagged in the Single Review Tool for adjudication.
One of the content moderators was asked if she deleted every Republican item that came up on her queue, she said: “Yes! I don’t give no f*cks, I’ll delete it.” …
Another content moderator, Lara Kontakos, was asked what she did when she saw a posts supporting the president: “If someone is wearing a MAGA hat, I am going to delete them for terrorism.”
Then, Kontakos looked around at her colleagues: “I think we are
all doing that.”
Steve Grimmett, a content review lead, said it was Facebook’s culture to target the president and his supporters. “It’s a very progressive company, who’s very anti-MAGA.”
Is it culture, or is it policy? Mark Zuckerberg has denied having any policy that aims at political speech, and has actually been more resistant than other social-media corporate leaders to get aggressive on viewpoints. However, one or more of these undercover conversations indicate that Zuckerberg is saying one thing to Congress and in public, but putting a very different policy in place internally at Facebook.
McElroy’s on-the-record statements conflict with Zuckerberg’s claims enough that O’Keefe wants Congress to take note of it:
“Zach McElroy’s story raises serious doubts about the Capitol Hill testimony of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who gave lawmakers the impression that his company only takes content that could cause harm, such as relating to terrorism or hate speech, but never for politics,” said James O’Keefe, Project Veritas’ founding CEO.
“Facebook and other social media platforms are protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, because they claim that unlike traditional publishers that do not actively edit content—they say they are like the phone company just stringing wires on poles,” said O’Keefe.
“Facebook’s $400 billion market capitalization is tied to this protection and our report shows for the first time anywhere Facebook’s robust and human-directed process for restricting the marketplace of ideas, which calls into question their CDA 230 immunity,” he said.
I’m not crazy about going after Section 230, which does a lot more than protect Facebook. If people want an end to social media of any kind as well as comments sections on websites, curtailing Section 230 is exactly what will create that outcome. It might be better to take a look at Facebook’s empire in light of anti-trust legislation, along with Google and other Internet giants, and force them to spin off previous acquisitions. Too much expressive power on the Internet has come under the control of too few hands, and it has created a space in which no meaningful competition can arise to challenge these editorial policies.
Hopefully, a Senate committee will drag Zuckerberg back in front of the cameras and show him this tape. They could also call McElroy to rebut whatever denials Zuckerberg offers, as well as subpoena the content moderators seen in this video to demand some answers on whether Zuckerberg knowingly lied to Congress about the nature of that moderation. That would make for a good start toward accountability.