On Tuesday, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg announced a few results from the “civil rights” audit led by former ACLU lawyer Laura Murphy. That audit focuses on liberal concerns like voter suppression and targeting of minorities. Sandberg did not discuss or announce a completely separate audit involving conservative concerns, the results of which are expected next year.
“Murphy released her initial findings,” a Facebook representative told PJ Media on Wednesday. “She sat down with 90 civil rights organizations, including NAACP, Color of Change, the Human Rights Campaign, the Urban League, and other organizations, to see where the company can do better.”
The Facebook spokesperson also told PJ Media that a “completely separate conservative bias review” is also ongoing, led by the law firm Covington and Burling. Former Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) also led this audit, before Gov. Doug Ducey (R-Ariz.) named him to replace the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
“Just like the civil rights audit, they will talk to Right-leaning organizations like the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, and so forth,” the Facebook representative explained. The conservative audit will focus on “hiring, algorithm feeds, and so forth.”
The spokesperson argued that Facebook kept the audits separate “because both sides are looking at two different things: Murphy is looking at everything from discrimination to how things are phrased in terms of voter suppression, and applying civil rights law. Covington and Burling is looking at completely separate concerns.
The representative said an update on the conservative bias report is expected next year.
James A. Smith Sr., vice president of communications at National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), told PJ Media that his organization was one of the groups Covington and Burling approached for the Facebook audit.
“Facebook has sought our input in the conservative audit, for which we are grateful,” Smith told PJ Media. “We are interested in seeing the result of this audit since we remain concerned about a pattern of censorship of Christian and conservative viewpoints on Facebook and other social media platforms.”
While Smith expressed appreciation for Facebook’s decision to include NRB, he reiterated NRB President Jerry Johnson’s ultimatum that unless Big Tech companies adopt a free speech charter by January 31, 2018, NRB will lead its 60-million members in a campaign to lobby Congress to remove the special protections social media companies enjoy.
“While we look forward to Facebook’s audit, unless the Big Tech companies commit to some kind of free speech charter by the end of this year, we remain committed to calling for hearings in the new Congress to consider possible changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to remedy the problem of online censorship,” Smith said. Section 230 grants big tech companies immunity from being held legally liable for the speech on their platforms.
Dan Gainor, vice president of business and culture at the Media Research Center (MRC), expressed concern over Facebook’s decision to keep the audits separate, and over the fact that Facebook led with the “civil rights” audit.
“It certainly is odd that they would disconnect the audits,” Gainor told PJ Media on Wednesday. “The logical thing in a case like this is to release them both at the same time, give them equal heft, equal attention, and they didn’t do that.”
“It’s certainly incumbent upon them to treat both of them equally,” the MRC vp added. He noted that Sandberg personally endorsed the “civil rights” audit, writing, “the civil rights audit is deeply important to me, and it’s one of my top priorities for 2019.”
“Is Sheryl Sandberg going to personally endorse the results of the Covington report?” Gainor pointedly asked. “If they want to treat these two analyses equally, that’s what you would expect.”
The MRC vp suggested that Facebook led with the Left-wing audit because the “major media” would be more likely to cover that side of the issue. “The tech press particularly has determined that there’s no bias against conservatives even though it’s very obvious that there is,” Gainor said. “That’s not necessarily Facebook’s press, that’s the fact that the tech press is filled with liberals who think if there’s bias against conservatives, it’s a good thing.”
Indeed, even in the Google hearing last week, Democrats denounced the very idea of Big Tech bias against conservatives as a “fantasy,” even though studies have found widespread fear among conservative employees in Silicon Valley and a massive preference among Silicon Valley workers for Democratic campaigns.
The very language of the “civil rights” audit proved a red flag for Gainor.
“I think it’s very worrisome that Facebook was working with these liberal so-called ‘civil rights’ groups before the election,” he said, referencing the part of Sandberg’s report admitting that the 90 civil rights groups were consulted as part of Facebook’s election efforts. “They met with them, they got invited into the War Room. Their meetings — which we don’t have any idea how extensive they were…”
“They work with liberal groups that say, ‘We’re not liberal,’ and they wonder why we don’t like it,” Gainor quipped. “My whole life, the Left has always said, ‘We’re the only ones who represent rights for people.'” He referenced the AARP, calling it “a Left-wing pressure group.”
Indeed, in her blog post, Sandberg described Murphy as “a highly respected civil rights and civil liberties leader.” The Facebook representative used similar language to describe her as “a very well-known civil rights activist.”
Indeed, Murphy is highly respected and well-known, but her politics clearly lean in one direction. According to her law firm’s “about” section, Murphy spent 17 years as director of the ACLU’s legislative office, focused on free speech, criminal justice reform, “reproductive rights” (ahem, abortion), “LGBT and civil rights, and Internet privacy” (ahem, Net Neutrality).
Murphy has every right to campaign for these issues, of course. But Facebook’s decision to cast her as some kind of neutral “civil rights and civil liberties leader” is dishonest.
Facebook’s decision to run a separate conservative audit suggests the company knows this. Indeed, Gainor also noted that Facebook’s conservative audit worked with MRC in addition to NRB.
The social media giant’s decision to work with both sides is laudable, but it seems the concerns of Right and Left may ultimately be at loggerheads, and Facebook is likely to choose one over the other.
Gainor recalled MRC telling Facebook that their “hate speech policy is entirely bogus.”
“In theory, they could come out strong and defend conservative beliefs, but it reaches a point where you realize some of these things contradict one another,” the MRC vp noted. “Conservative beliefs and liberal beliefs are not the same. So if you are going to bend over backwards to placate the so-called ‘civil rights’ movement, that’s not going to work with giving everybody a free and equal chance.”
Gainor noted Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s November 15 remarks about the different worldviews of Right and Left, which boil down to “equal opportunity or equal outcome. The two are very different.”
“No matter what they choose, a lot of these are value-laden decisions. If you choose one, it puts you on a path and if you choose the other it puts you on a path,” Gainor argued. “Too much of the path they seem to be choosing is away from western ideals and beliefs and freedom.”
He argued that the Left is pushing for a “cultural revolution, rejecting the old world for a new world in which they are in charge. They’re trying to do that with Facebook.”
Indeed, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has launched a campaign to “Change the Terms” at social media companies, pressuring them to exile “hate” from their platforms. Of course, the SPLC brands mainstream conservative and Christian groups as “hate groups,” so this “civil rights” activism boils down to censoring conservatives.
Ultimately, Facebook and other Big Tech companies have to choose one over the other, and everything about their work culture and hiring practices suggests they’ll choose the Left over the Right. Conservatives will be waiting with baited breath to see what the second audit reveals — but they will also be waiting with certain suspicions.
“I’m a Reaganite conservative,” Gainor insisted. “Trust, but verify.”
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.