Facebook ‘bias’ study will be run by right-wing corporate lobbyist, exclude all liberals

A bias study with one side represented.

A pixelated photo of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg on an iPhone in this photo illustration on April 30, 2018. (CREDIT: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A pixelated photo of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg on an iPhone in this photo illustration on April 30, 2018. (CREDIT: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Conservatives have alleged — thus far without evidence — that Facebook has shown a bias against conservative groups or censored their content.

To address this, Facebook announced Wednesday that it was bringing in two major conservative players to evaluate whether Facebook displays a liberal bias.

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The oversight effort, dubbed a “conservative bias advising partnership” by Axios, which first reported the arrangement on Wednesday, will involve former Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who was minority whip, as well as the Heritage Foundation, the right-wing think tank. Kyl, along with the lobbying firm he joined after leaving the Senate, Covington and Burling, will look at claims of liberal bias internally and on Facebook’s services, get feedback from conservative groups, and advise Facebook on how to work with these groups. Kyl will “will examine concerns about alleged liberal bias on Facebook, internally and on our services. He will get feedback directly from conservative groups and advise us on the best path forward,” according to a statement from Facebook. The Heritage Foundation “will convene meetings on these issues with Facebook executives,” Axios reported.

Facebook’s bias study, according to Facebook, will not include any liberals. A Facebook spokesperson did not answer a question about whether there would be any visibility into conduct of the bias study for publications or groups that are not conservative.

Claims of anti-conservative bias, despite the constant attacks from conservatives, are unfounded. In 2016, conservatives accused the company of deliberately suppressing conservative articles from the site’s “trending” section. Though the group was poorly managed, claims of bias were not supported by the facts.

More recently, the conservative duo Diamond and Silk became a right-wing cause célèbre after they accused Facebook of censoring their videos. They dominated a hearing where Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and then received their own hearing where they testified that Facebook had deliberately censored them. The problem is that there is no evidence this is true. As ThinkProgress reported last month, “total interactions on Diamond and Silk’s Facebook page were steady” over the period when they were supposedly being censored. Liberal pages with similar video posting practices, in fact, saw a sharper decline in total interactions than Diamond and Silk’s did.

The duo’s congressional appearance was packed with falsehoods, where they not only repeated the Facebook censorship claims, but also disputed FEC reports from the Trump campaign showing that the campaign paid them during the 2016 election. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) defended their claims and the hearing by citing the conservative conspiracy theory site Gateway Pundit as a source to prove that Diamond and Silk’s page was censored.

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Facebook will also conduct a study of “civil rights and Facebook’s impact on underrepresented communities and communities of color.” This effort will be led by Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, the law firm Relman, Dane & Colfax, and Vanita Gupta, President of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. A Facebook spokesperson said this would be separate and distinct from the bias study.

The people and groups recruited by Facebook to conduct the audit raise additional concerns.

Jon Kyl, who is running the probe, was ranked as one of the Senate’s most conservative members, and lobbies for large corporations in his role at Covington and Burling.

Kyl himself has had a difficult relationship with the truth. In 2011, shortly before he retired from the Senate to be a lobbyist, he falsely claimed that 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services were for abortion.

In fact, one of the independent fact-checking websites that rated Kyl’s 2011 Planned Parenthood claim as false, Politifact, was criticized by a conservative site that took issue with the rating, “politifactbias.com” which bills itself as a conservative balance to Politifact.

Conservatives like those from the Heritage Foundation see liberal bias everywhere, especially in the media.

To combat “fake news” after the 2016 election, Facebook announced it would partner with third-party fact-checkers to identify false stories and rank them lower in users’ newsfeeds. However, last year the company revealed that one of the official fact-checkers would be conservative opinion magazine the Weekly Standard, against the advice from an independent report from the Poynter Institute.

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While the inclusion of the Weekly Standard may have alarmed some, the real problem with Facebook’s fact-checking strategy was including liberal media outlets, according to the Daily Signal, the Heritage Foundation’s blog. Heritage claimed ABC News, Politifact, the Washington Post and other non-ideological sources were “liberal fact-checkers” their involvement will “result in crackdowns on conservative outlets than liberal outlets.”

“Getting outside feedback will help us improve over time — ensuring that we can more effectively serve the people on Facebook,” said Joel Kaplan, vice president of Global Policy at Facebook, in an emailed statement to ThinkProgress.

Facebook did not answer questions from ThinkProgress about why liberal were excluded from the process or whether this incentivizes conservatives to continue to make false charges of bias.