Facebook’s public relations problems seem to be piling up. First, the social media giant was forced to defend itself after data showed a bias against conservative news outlets.
Then, the company faced bipartisan backlash as the Cambridge Analytica scandal put the privacy of users’ personal information into question.
During his much-publicized congressional testimony, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted to some mistakes but essentially told lawmakers and the public to trust that the issues were being corrected.
Now, yet another scandal involving alleged political bias is brewing. On Friday, The Daily Caller revealed that Facebook was censoring its factual reporting about anti-Trump FBI text messages, and was literally telling users to share other stories instead.
“Facebook blocked users Friday from sharing a Daily Caller story on the 300 ‘missing’ text messages between FBI Agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page that were turned over to Congress on Thursday night,” the center-right news outlet explained.
“The Daily Caller News Foundation obtained and published the text messages early Friday morning,” continued that site. “Sometime Friday afternoon, however, Facebook began blocking users from sharing the story with their friends, warning them that the story could be spam.”
Screenshots of the bizarre Facebook message show that the social network labeled The Daily Caller’s story, which was politically bad for Democrats, as “spam” because it was being widely shared.
“Our security systems have detected that a lot of people are posting the same content, which could mean that it’s spam,” Facebook scolded users who attempted to share the story. “Please try a different post.”
How a long-established and widely known news source like The Daily Caller was flagged, or why many people sharing an important news story could be considered off limits, is a bit of a mystery.
A representative from Facebook gave the somewhat vague explanation that the article “triggered one of our automated spam signals – likely because of the high activity that is mentioned in that alert.”
To their credit, Facebook did apparently remove the spam block and users are now able to share the article. However, it took over an hour for this to happen, and it isn’t clear how many other articles or entire news sites were also wrongly flagged.
It would be easier to accept these problems as genuine oversights instead of built-in bias if they weren’t part of a disturbing pattern. A growing stack of evidence suggests that Facebook’s issues are predominantly impacting conservative sites, while liberal outlets seem miraculously unscathed.
Take the black conservative duo Diamond and Silk, for instance. Despite building a following of over a million fans and clearly being real people, their Facebook page was flagged as “dangerous.” It took major media attention and congressmen questioning Zuckerberg before this was resolved.
Or look at data studies from both The Western Journal and The Outline, which show that the social network’s recent “algorithm change” has unfairly hurt conservative outlets while benefiting left-of-center news sources.
Even if you accept that these documented changes are accidental and not part of purposeful bias, it seems clear that Facebook has much more work to do in order to stay even-handed and unbiased.
One of the advantages of social media is that individuals can connect with the people and news sources that they trust, instead of being spoon-fed headlines from a faraway newsroom. That premise still has promise, but only if the platform remains level for all.
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