At Facebook’s recent shareholder meeting, CEO Mark Zuckerberg again faced allegations that the platform is inherently biased by the prevailing liberal ideology at its California headquarters.
While he has previously acknowledged the partisan proclivity among a majority of Silicon Valley residents, Zuckerberg challenged the perception of one attendee during Thursday’s meeting in Menlo Park.
Justin Danhof, director of the conservative think tank Free Enterprise Project, addressed the issue of political bias when given the opportunity to question the tech giant’s founder.
In prepared remarks before arriving at his question, Danhof referenced Zuckerberg’s comments that day and his testimony earlier this year before Congress in arguing that partisan bias is inevitable within the company.
“You mentioned you have 20,000 or so employees working on content,” he said. “You stated before Congress that you don’t know the politics of those individuals and that politics plays no role in hiring decisions here at Facebook. However, you also said that you were well aware that Silicon Valley is primarily populated by liberals.”
Citing the CEO’s suggestion that he “tried to make sure (political bias among employees) does not affect their work,” Danhof asked how Zuckerberg could be aware of such biases without also knowing their politics.
“You also said politics plays no role in what content these individuals decide to remove,” he said. “I just don’t see how all those things can be true at the same time.”
Danhof went on to reference a 2016 Gizmodo report citing multiple sources who described an atmosphere in which conservative content was occasionally suppressed.
“Silicon Valley elites often preen about commitments to diversity and inclusion, but I don’t think many of you know what that means,” he told Facebook executives. “Diversity isn’t what someone looks like. It’s the sum of what they think, feel and believe. Perhaps you should consider actually talking with employees and potential hires about their politics.”
Danhof suggested the company could avoid “groupthink problems” by “hiring a few conservatives” for parity.
“Will you commit to increasing viewpoint diversity amongst the ranks at Facebook, and what tangible steps can you commit to in order to achieve that goal?” he asked.
In response, Zuckerberg stressed that Facebook is a platform “for all different ideas,” defending any reference to partisan bias as simply an acknowledgement of statistics.
He said that “Silicon Valley in general is a very left-leaning place,” calling it a “reasonable assumption” that those working at the Facebook headquarters would roughly match that data.
“At least in our Silicon Valley headquarters they’re going to skew that way,” he said, contrasting those employees with a content review team “all around the world.”
In response to concerns that conservative content continues to encounter censorship, Zuckerberg said that he does not believe “the same leaning would exist” among those who decide what posts comply with the site’s terms. He also pointed to “very strict guidelines” meant to deter any abuses.
As for Danhof’s primary question, Zuckeberg said he agreed that a diversity of political thought is important and pointed to a range of ideologies represented “on the board, on the management team, in all the different roles” at Facebook as part of the company’s commitment to that goal.
“I do think that is an important aspect of making sure we represent all the people in our community well,” he said.
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