The manager for Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign told Fox & Friends on Thursday that he’s contacted Facebook and Twitter demanding information about so-called “political bias” on their social media platforms.
The letter, which was co-authored by RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, claimed that the “rampant political bias” in Facebook and Twitter’s corporate cultures was working to silence conservative voices. “What we want to do in this letter is to make sure we understand what’s happening, we want to ask them for transparency,” Parscale told Fox and Friends. “We need to know that conservative voices have their chance to get their voices out.”
— Ronna McDaniel (@GOPChairwoman) May 24, 2018
Conservatives have repeatedly claimed that their voices were being censored on social media. During Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony in front of Congress in April, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) claimed Facebook “blocked Trump supporters Diamond and Silk’s page.” Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX) asked why Facebook “is censoring conservative bloggers such as Diamond and Silk.”
But the conservative hysteria around their so-called censorship ignores a number of pretty crucial facts. The first, and most obvious, of these is one that Brexit campaigner and Trump acolyte Nigel Farage laid out at Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony in the European Parliament on Tuesday; Facebook has been instrumental in right-wing populists victories across the West.
We won’t tolerate bias toward conservatives or @realDonaldTrump supporters. We’re standing up for you and demanding answers. @GOPChairwoman and I have sent the following letter to @facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and @Twitter’s @jack Dorsey. #StopTheBias pic.twitter.com/Poz0Dne9i7
— Brad Parscale (@parscale) May 24, 2018
“It’s true that through Facebook and other forms of social media, there’s no way that Brexit or Trump or the Italian election could have ever possibly happened,” Farage said. “It was social media that allowed people to get around the back of mainstream media.”
It seems rich for conservatives to cry foul about Facebook when that same platform is at least partially responsible for right-wing victories in the U.S. and Europe. It’s even richer when you consider that Facebook has repeatedly bent over backward to accommodate conservative concerns. In 2016, after Gizmodo reported some Facebook workers had used their own political views to influence the trending news section, Mark Zuckerberg held a 75-minute session with prominent conservatives to reassure them about the sites impartiality.
“I was really pleased,” conservative CNN commentator S.E. Cupp told the Washington Post. “I felt like this was not just a photo opp.”
Then, last December, Facebook named the conservative opinion magazine the Weekly Standard an official fact-checker — despite an independent report saying that the Weekly Standard was grossly under-prepared for the role, and has a long history of dubious journalistic practices.
What’s more, a previous analysis by ThinkProgress of Diamond and Silk’s claims that Facebook was censoring them showed that their assertions were not even remotely true. Data from analytics platform Crowdtangle showed that their “total interactions” had actually increased from March 2017 (1,060,000) to March 2018 (1,088,000) when they claimed that they were being censored. Diamond and Silk also received more interactions in January 2018 (1,328,000) when they claimed they were “censored” than in any other month in 2017.
This didn’t stop the pair from claiming, before the House Judiciary Committee in April, that “Facebook censored us for 6 months.” Diamond and Silk then went on to claim that they’d never received any money from the Trump campaign, despite a FEC filing showing explicitly the opposite.
Conservatives are also worried that right-leaning news sites have experienced a downward trend in traffic after Facebook changed its algorithm to favor more trusted sources earlier this year. According to the right-leaning Western Journal, traffic to conservative publication dipped on average 14 percent between early February and mid-March 2018.
But losing traffic thanks to Facebook tweaking its algorithm is something that all media sites, conservative and otherwise, have had to contend with. The best example here is Upworthy which, in 2013, was riding a wave of viral (and left-leaning) stories to become the fastest-growing media site of all time, according to Forbes. The problem was that Upworthy’s content was almost entirely reliant upon Facebook’s algorithms. When Facebook changed them, Upworthy’s reach fell from 90 million people a month to 20 million, in the space of one year.
Facebook’s political leanings aren’t what’s harming conservative site’s traffic. What’s harming them is an over-reliance on a network which has its own interests first and those of the media piggybacking on its platform second.