It was Facebook that became the first target of coordinated right-wing outrage in 2016, when conservatives seized on a Gizmodo article to suggest that editors of Facebook’s “Trending” section were censoring conservative voices. The story had, in fact, uncovered a secret: that Facebook was turning to human beings, with editorial judgment, to make decisions about what content to show its users, rather than simply relying on algorithms.
A former Facebook employee recalls the company’s Republican lobbyist, Joel Kaplan, pushing in those early days to do away with human editorial choices, and to let Facebook’s algorithms choose what news made its “Trending” section. Instead, Facebook killed the feature entirely, and prostrated itself to the right in a public meeting with Republican media figures and a private 2016 visit by Mark Zuckerberg’s executive team to Fox News headquarters.
Since then, Facebook has sought to ingratiate itself to the Trump administration, while taking a harder line on Covid-19 misinformation. As the president’s backers post wild claims on the social network, the company offers the equivalent of wrist slaps — a complex fact-checking system that avoids drawing the company directly into the political fray. It hasn’t worked: The fact-checking subcontractors are harried umpires, an easy target for Trump supporters’ ire.