Arizona Congressman Andy Biggs cited an original study by The Western Journal during a House Judiciary hearing concerning social media companies’ bias against conservative sites on Thursday.
The bulk of Biggs’ remarks focused on Facebook’s February news feed algorithm change which resulted in conservative sites falling in the rankings of the most engaged pages on the platform while liberal outlets rose.
“When Facebook changed their platform, we saw from January 2018 a steady decrease in the top 25 biggest publishers on Facebook,” the Republican said. “They moved many of the conservative links such as Fox News, Western Journal, etc, they moved further down that list.”
In January, Fox News was the most engaged site on Facebook, and The Western Journal was not far behind at No. 4, just trailing The New York Times, according to Newswhip. Further, The Daily Wire, also conservative, came in at No. 6.
Following the algorithm change, which The Journal determined was implemented in early February, Western dropped to No. 12 among news sites, while The Times remained the same at No. 4. Meanwhile, NBC jumped to the top of the list and CNN sprang from No. 16 to No. 2.
In March, the first full month after the algorithm change, CNN took the top spot, followed by NBC, with Fox News the only conservative site remaining in the top 10. Others on that list included The Times, the Huffington Post, BBC, The Washington Post, and The Guardian.
The Western Journal had dropped back to No. 22.
“Now I don’t think anybody’s isolated the variables,” said Biggs of the change in rankings. “The audience may have changed, but it does provide some correlative indicia that the result of that algorithmic change by Facebook impacted the dissemination of conservative thought and ideas.”
Newswhip reported that the change in the rankings for the sites was clearly a result of Facebook’s news algorithm change.
Biggs went on to cite The Western Journal’s original study about the impact of the shift on conservative sites.
“George Upper, the executive editor of Western Journal has said their ‘algorithm change, intentional or not, has in effect censored conservative viewpoints on the largest social media platform in the world,'” the congressman stated.
Continuing to quote Upper, Biggs added, “This change has ramifications that in the short term that are causing conservative publishers to downsize or fold up completely and in the long term could swing elections in the United States and around the world toward liberal politicians and policies.”
The study concluded that liberal publishers gained on average 2 percent more in web traffic from Facebook following the new algorithm’s implementation, while conservative sites lost on average 14 percent.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise also cited The Journal’s findings during his questioning of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg before the House Commerce Committee earlier this month.
Campbell Brown, a former anchor on NBC and CNN who now leads Facebook’s news partnerships team, told attendees at a technology and publishing conference earlier this year that the social media giant would be censoring news publishers based on its own internal biases.
“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 to define what ‘quality news’ looks like and give that a boost.”
Interestingly, Brown’s two former employers — NBC and CNN — were sites that clearly got the boost.
On Thursday, Biggs noted that Zuckerberg, during his congressional testimony, confirmed Facebook’s intention to favor news sites it determined to be “broadly trusted.”
“The one thing that’s interesting here, he doesn’t indicate his definition of ‘broadly trusted,'” Biggs said, but the Facebook head simply offered the examples of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
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