On Wednesday, the Senate commerce committee held a hearing about content moderation on social media platforms, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai were called as witnesses. The hearing was ostensibly about possible reform to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, but the goal of the Republican senators who called it was clearly to influence how these platforms enforce their policies in the days leading up to and following next week’s elections.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) went so far as to promote the hearing like some type of boxing match between himself (“the free speech champion”) and Dorsey (“the czar of censorship”), and he used his speaking time to berate the CEO for their content moderation policies.
The hearing served as a public forum for conservatives to work the refs, accusing these platforms of having anti-conservative bias in an effort to spur more favorable treatment. Of course, there isn’t actually anti-conservative bias on social media platforms -- quite the opposite, actually.
A new nine-month Media Matters study of Facebook pages posting political content found that right-leaning pages outperformed left-leaning and politically neutral pages in the number of average weekly interactions they accrued. Studies published in August 2019, April 2019, and July 2018 found similar disparities or equal performance. Past studies of Facebook have found that conservative pages dominate liberal and neutral pages on topics including abortion, immigration, and transgender issues, as well. While Zuckerberg may deny that Facebook is a “right-wing echo chamber,” his belief isn’t supported by the facts.
In fact, Zuckerberg has made repeated overtures to the right when conservatives claim to be the victims of bias on the platform. Zuckerberg hired lifelong Republican operatives to head global policy and election policy initiatives, and earlier this year he hired a former Fox & Friends senior producer to head video strategy for Facebook News. A February Washington Post report outlined some of the many ways Zuckerberg has tried to appease conservatives, which included the torpedoing of a plan to address fake news websites, the politically motivated inclusion of Breitbart in its news tab program, and meetings with the likes of Corey Lewandowski, Tucker Carlson, Glenn Beck, and a bevy of conservative commentators in 2016.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Zuckerberg talks regularly with White House senior advisor Jared Kushner and has built a relationship with Daily Wire co-founder Ben Shapiro, whose content happens to be some of the most shared on the entire platform. That same Wall Street Journal report showed that Facebook’s actions to help conservatives had the effect of reducing traffic to left-leaning outlets like Mother Jones.
Even with all of this evidence showing how Facebook supports them, conservatives still play the role of victims. It will never, ever be good enough for them.
“What we are watching -- the militarization of social media on behalf of Democrats, and the overt suppression of material damaging to Democrats to the cheering of the press -- is one of the single most dangerous political moments I have ever seen,” Shapiro wrote on Twitter, seemingly oblivious to the way social media companies promote his content at the expense of liberal articles.
Evidence of anti-conservative bias is always thin, based on faulty comparisons, or just outright false. During the hearing, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) brought up a recent Media Research Center report that claimed that Trump was “censored” 65 times on social media. This was a particularly weak and easily debunked point, and it goes to show just how much of a reach conservatives are making when they claim to be the victims of bias.
Conservatives have called tech CEOs in front of Congress over and over and over and over, usually under the guise of an anti-trust hearing or a chance to comment on reforming Section 230. But they’re clearly interested only in trying to coerce these companies into giving them an advantage.