Arizona Republican Rep. Andy Biggs cited The Western Journal during an interview on Fox News on Wednesday as an example of Facebook continuing to censor conservative sites.
On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee held its second hearing on alleged bias by social media companies against conservative content.
“America’s Newsroom” host Sandra Smith asked Biggs, who is a member of the committee, “In your view, is there censorship of conservatives when it comes to these social media companies?”
“I think there is and I think there is ample evidence,” Biggs replied. “I think of someplace like Western Journal that was growing month over month for quite some time, and the algorithms changed and then all of the sudden, the flow of visitor traffic is put to nothing.”
The congressman also pointed to Twitter’s decision last October to block a pro-life ad by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., labeling it “inflammatory” and “negative,” as reported by the Washington Examiner. Facing public pressure, Twitter reversed the decision a few days later, according to LifeSite News.
— Fox News (@FoxNews) July 18, 2018
According to Newswhip, the Phoenix-based Western Journal ranked No. 4 in January among the most engaged sites on Facebook, behind Fox News, NBC.com, and The New York Times. Also in the top 10 sites was the conservative Daily Wire.
After Facebook’s algorithm change in early February, The Western Journal dropped to No. 12 among news sites, Newswhip reported. Fox News fell to No. 3, with NBC taking over the top spot and CNN leaping from No. 16 to No. 2.
By March — the first full month following the algorithm change — CNN was on top, followed by NBC. Fox News remained the only conservative site in the top 10, with The Times, the Huffington Post, BBC, the U.K. Daily Mail, The Washington Post, Yahoo, and the U.K. Guardian filling out the other slots, according to Newswhip.
Meanwhile, The Western Journal had dropped back to No. 22, four spots behind Buzzfeed, the infamous purveyor of the unverified so-called Trump dossier.
A statement by Campbell Brown, a former anchor on NBC and CNN who now leads Facebook’s news partnerships team, perhaps explained the reordering of publishers.
Brown told attendees at a technology and publishing conference in February that Facebook would be prioritizing news publishers on the platform based based on the social media company’s “point of view,” according to Recode.
“This is not us stepping back from news,” she said. “This is us changing our relationship with publishers and emphasizing something that Facebook has never done before: It’s having a point of view, and it’s leaning into quality news. … We are, for the first time in the history of Facebook, taking a step to try to define what ‘quality news’ looks like and give that a boost.”
An original study by The Western Journal — which was cited by House Minority Whip Steve Scalise during the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in April — documented the change in reach for various news outlets based on their ideological bent.
The findings were unequivocal: The left-of-center sites saw a 2 percent increase in traffic, while conservative sites witnessed a 14 percent decrease.
Scalise, a former computer programmer, described the “16-point disparity” as “concerning,” and asked Zuckerberg if his company was seeking to lower the reach of conservative sites by its algorithm change.
In his response, the Facebook head claimed there is “absolutely no directive in any of the changes that we make to have a bias in anything that we do. To the contrary, our goal is to be a platform for all ideas.”
The engagement numbers for conservative sites have improved somewhat since the April hearing, with Fox News back on top in June, according to Newswhip, though CNN has retained its heightened position of No. 2.
The Western Journal crept back up from No. 22 in March, to No. 15. Besides Fox, only one other conservative site, The Daily Wire, is in the top 10 of Facebook’s most engaged pages, coming in at No. 9.
During Tuesday’s Judiciary Committee hearing, Monika Bickert, Facebook’s vice president of global policy management, acknowledged the social media giant made at least one mistake with regard to the treatment of conservative views by suppressing the page of Lynnette “Diamond” Hardaway and Rochelle “Silk” Richardson.
The pro-Trump African-American duo had received a message from Facebook just days before April’s hearing informing them they had been flagged as “unsafe to the community.”
Multiple lawmakers grilled Zuckerberg about the determination, which he stated was an error that was being addressed.
Bickert said in her opening statement, “We badly mishandled our communications with (Diamond and Silk) and since then we’ve worked to improve our relationship.”
“We appreciate the perspective that they add to our platform,” she further stated.
Nonetheless, Diamond and Silk informed “Fox & Friends First” on Tuesday before the hearing that they were still being censored by Facebook.
— Fox & Friends First (@FoxFriendsFirst) July 17, 2018
On Wednesday, Biggs told Smith that public pressure, including the Judiciary Committee hearing, remains the best means of addressing social media companies’ bias.
“What we’re doing is the right approach,” the congressman said. “Because as we shine the light of day on this, we do see the social media companies…respond because their constituency includes…conservatives.”
He added, “We have to keep putting pressure on it this way, because the other way way is to do it is the liberal way, which would be to regulate them. That’s an anathema to conservatives as well.”
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.