On Tuesday, the liberal website Media Matters will publicly accuse Facebook of pro-conservative bias. Media Matters will fly a banner over the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., reading “Facebook [Loves] Right Wing Lies,” with a heart emoji.
“Facebook is now the single greatest ally and enabler of propagandists, liars, and extremists,” Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, declared in a statement. “In the past few weeks alone, Facebook has changed its ad policy to allow baldfaced lies in political ads and launched a newsfeed initiative with disreputable, racist outlet Breitbart.com as one of its signature news partners — essentially opening the floodgates so its users are left to drown in a sea of misinformation and bigotry.”
“Zuckerberg’s continued reflexive pandering to conservative pundits, right-wing extremists and white nationalists should terrify everyone,” Carusone added.
Media Matters castigated Facebook for publishing its audit focused on conservative censorship; for meeting with conservatives like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Fox News host Tucker Carlson; for allowing politicians to purchase ads on Facebook without the platform fact-checking them; and for including Breitbart as a source on its “Facebook News” platform. The press release framed these as capitulations to right-wing propaganda:
In August, Facebook released the findings of its year-long conservative bias audit, which provided no evidence that such bias actually existed, and instead relied on Republican-selected interviews with 133 right-wing Facebook users. Media Matters has published multiple studies proving that claims of bias are factually inaccurate: Right-leaning and left-leaning Facebook pages have nearly identical engagement rates, while right-leaning pages on average earn more weekly interactions than left-leaning pages.
Zuckerberg’s right-wing appeasement tour continued this fall, with Politico reporting that he had been secretly meeting with Republican politicians, white nationalists like Tucker Carlson, and other right-wing media figures. In October, Facebook announced that it would allow right-wing politican [sic] figures to deliberately lie and spread misinformation on its platform through paid advertisements, and launched its new Facebook News platform that included notorious white supremacist propaganda site Breitbart News in its promoted effort to combat misinformation.
In case this far-left spin gave you vertigo, I’ll explain just how wrong these claims are.
First, the conservative bias audit represented a step in the right direction, but an insufficient one. For all of Media Matters’ haranguing, it was important for Facebook to examine claims of censorship of conservative voices. Many conservatives and Christians have found their accounts suspended over mainstream conservative and Christian ideas. The platform suspended global evangelist Franklin Graham during Christmas week for a two-year-old post disagreeing with transgenderism. Christian scholar Robert Gagnon has found himself banned multiple times, and a German historian was suspended for saying Islam had little role in German history. Facebook has censored pro-life ads, blocked quotes from St. Augustine as “hate speech,” pulled Trump campaign ads, and more.
Thankfully, Facebook has refused to adopt the “hate group” accusations of the far-left Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). That does not erase these bans, but it should not be ignored either.
The Facebook report acknowledged conservative complaints, but did not substantiate any of the claims of bias. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) called the effort “a smokescreen disguised as a solution.” Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center, said the report “stunningly fails to admit fault or wrongdoing.” He said Facebook’s proposed solutions are “empty and insulting.”
Media Matters’ suggestion that because “right-leaning and left-leaning Facebook pages have nearly identical engagement rates” there is no censorship of conservative ideas entirely ignores the very pointed bans on conservative speakers for alleged “hate speech.” Even though Franklin Graham and others had their accounts restored, the fact that they were banned in the first place is still damning, and Facebook should apologize.
Yet the social media platform has taken some steps in the right direction, and Media Matters is extremely unhappy about it.
Zuckerberg’s decision to meet with conservative influencers helps assuage some concerns about Facebook’s bias. Employees at Big Tech companies like Facebook overwhelmingly skew Democratic — and contribute to Democratic campaigns. Senior Facebook engineer Brian Amerige wrote a memo criticizing the company’s liberal “political monoculture.” Zuckerberg’s meetings are not a scandal but a boon — and Tucker Carlson is not a “white nationalist.”
Third, Facebook’s decision not to fact-check political ads from candidates is smart. Rather than weighing in on political issues in ads, the platform will allow candidates to purchase ads regardless of their message. Liberals castigated the platform for allowing Trump’s campaign to purchase an ad attacking former Vice President Joe Biden over Ukraine claims that liberals insist are false. Facebook proved it was serious about this when Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) bought an ad falsely claiming that Zuckerberg had endorsed Donald Trump. Facebook allowed her to spread that message, even though it was false.
Finally, it is also good news that Facebook News is including conservative websites. I often disagree with Breitbart’s editorial style, but it is heartening to see Facebook is willing to consider outlets outside the liberal mainstream media.
Contrary to Media Matters’ ad, Facebook does not “love right wing lies.” The platform has merely decided to engage with conservatives and counter its built-in liberal bias. Zuckerberg is not kowtowing to the right, but he is taking the time to listen to conservative complaints and address them. The fact that liberal groups like Media Matters respond by demonizing Facebook is quite telling.
Media Matters is demonizing dissent from its far-left worldview, slamming Tucker Carlson as a “white nationalist” and Breitbart as “white supremacist.”
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.