Republican congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee questioned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday about the company’s February algorithm change that resulted in conservative pages experiencing a significant drop in their Facebook traffic.
Blackburn, who chairs the subcommittee on communications and technology of the House Commerce Committee, asked Zuckerberg, “Do you subjectively manipulate your algorithms to prioritize or censor speech?”
“Congresswoman, we don’t think about what we’re doing as censoring speech,” the Facebook head replied.
“There are types of content like terrorism that I think that we all agree we do not want on our service, so we build systems that can identify those and remove that content, and we’re very proud of that work,” Zuckerberg added.
Blackburn had one big problem with that answer.
“Let me tell you right now, Diamond and Silk is not terrorism,” she said.
Rep. Blackburn: "Do you subjectively manipulate your algorithms to prioritize or censor speech?"#Zuckerberg: "There are types of content like terrorism that I think we all agree we don't want to have on our service."
Blackburn: "Diamond and Silk is not terrorism." pic.twitter.com/2wRL3K3JHH
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) April 11, 2018
Rep. Joe Barton of Texas pressed Zuckerberg about the decision to suppress Lynnette “Diamond” Hardaway and Rochelle “Silk” Richardson on his platform, with Facebook labeling them “unsafe to the community.”
Zuckerberg responded that his company had made “an enforcement error.”
“And we’ve already gotten in touch with them to reverse it,” Zuckerberg said in reference to Diamond and Silk.
Hardaway and Richardson said they received an email from Facebook last week notifying them that their page was being suppressed.
“The Policy team has came to the conclusion that your content and your brand has been determined unsafe to the community,” the letter from Facebook read. “This decision is final and it is not appeal-able in any way.”
A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the decision to Fox News earlier this week, saying the content created by the pro-Donald Trump duo had been deemed “unsafe.” Facebook later told Fox the decision had been reversed.
Diamond and Silk addressed the issue Wednesday on “Fox & Friends” with a clear message: “We are not unsafe!”
.@DiamondandSilk on @foxandfriends: “We are not unsafe. We are not animals…Why is [Mark Zuckerberg] trying to turn his platform into a political playground?” https://t.co/3uKqpwxFhM pic.twitter.com/FLKvJY5Xkh
— Fox News (@FoxNews) April 11, 2018
“We are not unsafe. We are not animals. We are two black chicks that’s down with politics, that’s patriotic, that loves our country, that loves our president and that loves his agenda,” Hardaway said.
“If (Zuckerberg) was concerned about his platform being a place for all ideas, then why would he put algorithms in place to censor some ideas?” she asked. “And why is he turning Facebook into a political playground for Democrats?”
An original study by The Western Journal, reported on widely by other outlets, documented the change in reach to various news outlets based on their ideological bent, following Facebook’s February algorithm change.
The findings were unequivocal: Liberal publishers saw a nearly 2 percent increase in traffic, while the most popular conservative sites experienced a 14 percent decrease.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise cited the study during his questioning of Zuckerberg on Wednesday.
“Who develops the algorithm?” Scalise wondered, noting that he has written algorithms. “You can put a bias in, if that is the directive. Was there a directive to put this bias in?”
Rep. Scalise: "Was there a directive to put a bias in Facebook's algorithm?"#Zuckerberg: "There is absolutely no directive in any of the changes we make to have a bias in anything we do. To the contrary, our goal is to be a platform for all ideas."pic.twitter.com/RUPv4GBptG
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) April 11, 2018
Zuckerberg denied the algorithm change was directed at conservatives.
“There is absolutely no directive in any of the changes that we make to have a bias in anything that we do,” Zuckerberg said. “To the contrary, our goal is to be a platform for all ideas.”
Scalise further noted that 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 Facebook 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 define what ‘quality news’ looks like and give that a boost.”
Scalise called for the Facebook CEO to look into the issue of conservative site suppression, “because that is disturbing when you see that kind of disparity.”
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