A new BuzzFeed report reveals that Facebook employees have evidence that shows the platform gives preferential treatment to right-wing Facebook pages, which is at stark odds with conservatives’ frequent and unsubstantiated claims that social media platforms are censoring right-wing accounts.
An August 6 article from Craig Silverman and Ryan Mac reports that there are growing internal concerns about how Facebook handles misinformation, particularly misinformation related to voting and the upcoming 2020 presidential election. In internal message boards, employees questioned “the apparent special treatment of right-wing pages” including the far-right outlet Breitbart, which Facebook considers a “trusted new source.” Reportedly, employees have evidence that shows “a pattern of preferential treatment for right-wing publishers and pages,” including interference in Facebook’s fact-checking process from company leaders such as Facebook Vice President for Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan. Kaplan, a former deputy White House chief of staff for the George W. Bush administration, reportedly pushed for Facebook to partner with right-wing groups and was involved in nixing proposed solutions to stop political polarization on the platform.
This reporting comes as right-wing politicians and figures continue to baselessly accuse Facebook and other social media platforms of censorship and anti-conservative bias. During the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee hearing last month, conservative lawmakers repeatedly alleged that Facebook is biased against right-leaning content. Additionally, Fox News attacked Facebook and accused the platform of censorship after Facebook enforced its policy against COVID-19 misinformation.
Media Matters has repeatedly found that claims of anti-conservative bias on social media platforms are false. In multiple studies over the course of several years, Media Matters has shown that right-leaning and left-leaning content thrives on Facebook, with right-leaning Facebook pages earning more interactions -- reactions, comments, shares -- on posts about voting and posts about protests against police brutality than do posts from left-leaning or ideologically nonaligned pages. In recent weeks, this trend has continued to hold.
BuzzFeed’s latest report about Facebook employees claiming there is a pattern of preferential treatment toward right-leaning Facebook pages and figures further underscores how Facebook has caved to pressure from conservatives, despite evidence repeatedly debunking conservatives’ baseless accusations. From BuzzFeed’s August 6 article:
With heightened internal tensions and morale at a low point, concerns about how the company handles fact-checked content have exploded in an internal Workplace group dedicated to misinformation policy.
Last Friday, at another all-hands meeting, employees asked Zuckerberg how right-wing publication Breitbart News could remain a Facebook News partner after sharing a video that promoted unproven treatments and said masks were unnecessary to combat the novel coronavirus. The video racked up 14 million views in six hours before it was removed from Breitbart’s page, though other accounts continued to share it.
Zuckerberg danced around the question, but did note that Breitbart could be removed from the company's news tab if it were to receive two strikes for publishing misinformation within 90 days of each other. (Facebook News partners, which include dozens of publications such as BuzzFeed News and the Washington Post, receive compensation and placement in a special news tab on the social network.)
“This was certainly one strike against them for misinformation, but they don't have others in the last 90 days,” Zuckerberg said. “So by the policies that we have, which by the way I think are generally pretty reasonable on this, it doesn't make sense to remove them.”
But some of Facebook’s own employees gathered evidence they say shows Breitbart — along with other right-wing outlets and figures including Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, Trump supporters Diamond and Silk, and conservative video production nonprofit Prager University — has received special treatment that helped it avoid running afoul of company policy. They see it as part of a pattern of preferential treatment for right-wing publishers and pages, many of which have alleged that the social network is biased against conservatives.