It’s been a couple of weeks since a Gizmodo report about Facebook caused a considerable stir. The article, citing unnamed sources, claimed contract employees have admitted that the social-media behemoth suppresses conservative stories in its Trending Topics feed. Facebook denied the allegations and noted there’s no evidence to substantiate the claims.
The political impact, however, was immediate. As we discussed last week, Republicans, including the RNC itself, have been throwing a fit, condemning Facebook for “censoring” the right in ways that are “beyond disturbing.” One Republican senator said he’s considering hauling Facebook employees before Congress to explain themselves.
Facebook is taking all of this very seriously, for understandable reasons. The company wants as many users and content creators as possible, and if conservatives start to believe the site is stacked against them, that could pose a real threat to the business. All of which led to an interesting meeting at Facebook headquarters yesterday. NBC News reported:
Acknowledging that “many conservatives don’t trust that [Facebook] surfaces content without a political bias,” Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg met with about a dozen prominent right-wingers Wednesday at the company’s California headquarters.The meeting — on the fourth anniversary of the day Facebook issued its initial public offering and became a public company — was closed to reporters, but in a statement afterward, Zuckerberg noted that “Donald Trump has more fans on Facebook than any other presidential candidate. And Fox News drives more interactions on its Facebook page than any other news outlet in the world. It’s not even close.”
Among the participants were Glenn Beck, Fox News’ Dana Perino, the Heritage Foundation’s Jim DeMint, Ben Carson, and representatives of groups such as the Media Research Center, American Enterprise Institute, and Tea Party Patriots.
And in an unexpected development, one of them was actually a voice of reason.
Glenn Beck, of all people, published a piece after the meeting with a headline that read, “What disturbed me about the Facebook meeting.” I initially assumed what followed would be a tirade against the company, but instead, Beck took aim at the fellow conservatives who attended the gathering.
Beck noted that none of the conservatives had any proof of at all of Facebook tilting the scales in the left’s favor, and instead they made recommendations such as ideological hiring targets and “a six-month training program to help their biased and liberal workforce understand and respect conservative opinions and values.”
“It was like affirmative action for conservatives. When did conservatives start demanding quotas AND diversity training AND less people from Ivy League Colleges.“I sat there, looking around the room at ‘our side’ wondering, ‘Who are we?’ Who am I? I want to be very clear – I am not referring to every person in the room. There were probably 25–30 people and a number of them, I believe, felt like I did. But the overall tenor, to me, felt like the Salem Witch Trial: ‘Facebook, you must admit that you are screwing us, because if not, it proves you are screwing us.’”
Reflecting on Beck’s commentary, Slate’s Will Oremus added, “For the conservative politicians and talking heads who fanned this firestorm, it was never about ‘evidence.’ (It rarely is.) It was about seizing an opportunity to stoke resentment and mistrust of the media.”
I think that’s true; I just didn’t expect Glenn Beck to notice.