Facebook’s efforts to placate Republicans, which have by now been extensively documented , began in earnest during 2016, after Gizmodo published an investigation revealing that human moderators had “routinely suppressed” conservative content on its now-defunct trending news module. Though it wasn’t necessarily evidence of liberal bias—many of the suppressed pieces may have just been misleading or inflammatory—the story caused an uproar in right-wing circles; GOP senators announced an investigation, and Zuckerberg attempted to do damage control by sitting down for a meeting with conservative commentators like Tucker Carlson and Glenn Beck.
Since then, the company has been hyper-focused on deflecting accusations of anti-conservative bias, even if it meant allowing propaganda and trolls to flourish on its site. Much of that effort has been headed by Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s head of global public policy. A Republican veteran of the George W. Bush administration and close friend of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who sat behind the judge during his confirmation hearing, Kaplan is widely seen as the company’s chief defender of right-wing media interests. In December of 2016, he reportedly fought against immediately shutting down dozens of pages promoting (actual) fake news stories, because it would disproportionately hurt conservatives. He later neutered an effort to make Facebook less polarizing, called project “Common Ground,” because the changes engineers proposed would have clamped down on spammy and incendiary right-wing content. When Facebook sought to reduce the amount of posts by publishers in users’ news feeds, and increase the number by families and friends, he objected to the changes, because they would have gutted traffic for rabidly conservative sites like Breitbart, the Daily Caller, Daily Wire, and Gateway Pundit. Engineers went back and tweaked the algorithm so those sites would lose fewer readers, while well-regarded progressive news operations like Mother Jones would lose more.