Angelo Carusone talks to The New Abnormal podcast about how Facebook is complicit in spreading right-wing media lies

Media Matters president: Right-wing media “benefit from the current rules” at Facebook

Angelo Carusone talks to The New Abnormal podcast about how Facebook is complicit in spreading right-wing media lies

Audio file

Citation From the October 8, 2021, edition of The New Abnormal

JESSE CANNON (CO-HOST): The other big news of the week, though, is this testimony that Facebook is well aware that they are, in some estimations, making it so that the Republicans feel they have to radicalize for their base, and it seems that that is also a bit a reflection of Fox News. What have you guys been seeing there?

ANGELO CARUSONE (PRESIDENT, MEDIA MATTERS FOR AMERICA): You know, in a lot of ways, one, the damage is already done, and the right worked the refs so effectively at the platforms and in particular, Facebook, that what you basically had was a continuation of, you know, let me just take a step back on this because here's what I think is significant. It's significant, obviously, in the moment, right? But when I look at it, I think about it a little different. We are living in the world that was built in — at least the information landscape — that really came to being in the mid to late 90s. So the ascent of talk radio, Fox News, they sort of established themselves. They transformed the information landscape. They transformed the way that other media did business because they were responding to that, and they transformed our politics and our society. And that was mostly that way for the past few decades.

And what's happened is, you know, in 2015, 2016, you started to see a real shift in the significance of, in particular, Facebook, but some of the other platforms in changing it, and the moment we're in right now and have been, it's kind of like where we were in the mid to late 90s, where — whatever the new landscape is going to look like for the next few decades is being built right now. To me, when I think about the significance of the Facebook stuff, you can draw a straight line from things that the right-wing media were pushing the platform, in particular Facebook, to do and complaining about, to policy changes that they put in place as early as 2017 to the harms that were that were talked about in the testimony this week.

So, for instance, in 2017, when Glenn Beck and Tucker Carlson — I mean, I'm sorry, in 2016, when Glenn Beck and Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham complained to Facebook about the trending topics section being biased against conservatives, Mark Zuckerberg overnight, contrary to their own internal data, changed the entire rules of the way the trending topic sections worked. And for the first time ever on the platform, disinformation, misinformation, fake news, and right-wing media actually started to get greater reach and engagement than nonaligned or news sources.

MOLLY JONG-FAST (CO-HOST): And what year was that?

CARUSONE: That was in 2016, May of 2016.

JONG-FAST: Right. Oh, perfect. Yeah. Right before a certain election.

CARUSONE: A very significant moment. And you could draw  — and you could go down the list even more recently with the explosion of QAnon. This was a byproduct of right-wing complaints that held them, you know, from enforcing the rules. Decision-makers like Joel Kaplan, who was a former Republican operative, I guess current even, at Facebook.

And so to me, when I look at the testimony and just this week big picture, it's that we're watching whatever world information landscape we're going to live in being built. And this was a really big part of it, the same strategy they did in the 90s, the work the refs, they were doing it to the platforms, and then the harms that were talked about, you could actually go back and see the moments where the last vestiges of the right-wing media as they're beginning their transformation, were actually adapting and sort of tipping the scales in their favor for what the new information landscape was going to look like.

JONG-FAST: That is not fun, now, and does not make us happy. It strikes me that, while we're watching this testimony, the normal senators were like, “This is really bad. This is really bad.” And then you had like, Josh Hawley being like, you know, I mean, then you had the Trumpy younger senators being like, “How does this affect me?” Right?

CARUSONE: That's exactly right.

JONG-FAST: And then later on that same day, we had Ben Shapiro and all the conservatives who benefit from Facebook being like, “Yeah,” they will die on the Facebook hill.

CARUSONE: That's right. And they, you know, for the last few years, right, all of these right-wing media figures have been complaining that Facebook in particular is — has been aggressively censoring them, right? So they warn about shadow bans. They say their content is being depressed, right?


CARUSONE: They say that. But that is not — none of that was ever true. We've done the studies. We've done the data. On any given day, right-wing content somewhere has between 55 and 60% of the entire share of voice on Facebook.


CARUSONE: That means the rest is left to news and left-leaning sources. And that's —

JONG-FAST: And also dogs and horses, right?

CARUSONE: That's right. It's a pretty big imbalance. But now that, now that people are actually talking about regulation, and it starts to see a little more serious, and there's a possibility that they're — and they're zeroing in on the algorithms, which is these recommendation tools that help —

JONG-FAST: Radicalize our children.

CARUSONE: That's right. Now they're going to defend Facebook. And so what it — to me it shows is one, that their complaints were all B.S.


CARUSONE: And two, it actually reinforces just how much they benefit from the current, from the current rules. And that's completely true. I mean, the reason why Ben Shapiro spends $10 million so far this year on Facebook ads is not because he's trying to sell a product. He's not trying to get subscriptions. He's trying to you know one, promote his content, but two, he knows that the more he spends, the more residual benefits he gets from that because there's almost a pay-to-play environment. His other content gets rewarded as a result and that means that he gets greater reach, greater engagement, and a greater political influence as a result of that and that's it. And it does expose it.