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Facebook is an easy target for Republican conservatives — but it's all an act

Imagine a world where the GOP wins against Zuckerberg's social media giant. Then what?
Photo illustration: Multiple magnifying lenses overlap each other and a facebook logo.
Conservatives would be the saddest to see Facebook go.Anjali Nair / MSNBC; Getty Images

Mark Zuckerburg hates Republicans. There's no other explanation for why his creation, Facebook, seems so dedicated to censoring and silencing conservative voices. The evidence is clear that the Silicon Valley giant has bowed to the pressures of the far left and disproportionately targets conservatives.

That, readers, is just a small taste of what conservatives say about Facebook. It's a sure-fire way to stir up their supporters, giving them yet another chip on their shoulder and another grievance to exploit. The version of Facebook conservatives created in their heads is a monster that must be tamed before it destroys them.

"I'll just cut to the chase: Big Tech is out to get conservatives," Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said during a hearing in July. "That's not a hunch. That's not a suspicion. That's a fact." Few conservatives would disagree. Just look at last month's action by Facebook's oversight board, which was "as predictable as a Soviet show-trial." After the board's ruling, Facebook upheld its decision to ban former President Donald Trump from the platform for the next years.

Zuckerberg, who just last year was a lone voice for free speech among tech giants, has in their eyes been cowed as Democrats have amped up their demands for social media censorship. His platform has rededicated itself to eradicating "hate speech" in a clear attempt to erase Trump supporters from its digital commons. It's a fine repayment from a man whom Trump welcomed with open arms to the White House. "Next time I'm in the White House there will be no more dinners, at his request, with Mark Zuckerberg and his wife," Trump wrote in a statement this month. "It will be all business!"

It's obvious that Facebook won't end its censorship willingly. Only through the revocation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 can the crackdown on conservative voices end. After that, the goal has to be to break up Big Tech firms like Facebook, to "rein in big tech power over our speech," as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said last month.

But the Facebook that conservatives love to rail against is a fiction, a literary device invented to channel their opprobrium into even as conservatives benefit from the platform's dominance of internet life.

In reality, Facebook is the best thing that ever happened to the conservative movement. Its algorithm effortlessly magnifies and amplifies the exact pitch and tone of fear that the Republican Party has harnessed for decades. A study from the University of Virginia in November showed that Facebook "tends to polarize users, particularly conservative users, more than other social media platforms."

"In fact, the researchers found that typical conservative users, in months when they visited Facebook more than usual, read news that was about 30% more conservative than the online news they would typically read," a release from the university read.

That's basically the opposite of what you'd expect from a site that's working to tamp down conservative voices. Instead, Newswhip's list of the Facebook publishers with the highest engagement from May shows that half of the top 10 are right-wing pages, including Fox News and The Blaze. The Daily Wire, a right-wing aggregation site, had almost twice as much engagement as even Fox News, per the social media tracking company.

That's a lot of engagement, but it doesn't quite track with how many times those pages are read or by how many people. But when you look at the Twitter account @FacebooksTop10, you can see how steady conservatives' supremacy on the site remains day in and day out. The account, run by Kevin Roose, a tech columnist for The New York Times, more often than not shows that half or more of the site's top-performing links are from right-wing commentators like Ben Shapiro, the founder of The Daily Wire, or Dan Bongino.

This is the result of a series of choices from the top at Facebook, especially those of Joel Kaplan, the Republican head of its global public policy office, which lobbies governments around the world. Kaplan's role also put him in charge of content policy, helping determine what posts could be removed. And he and Zuckerberg stepped in time and time again to help protect Trump and other conservatives from the rules that Facebook had put in place. BuzzFeed News reported in February that it was Zuckerberg himself who stepped in in April 2019 to stop far-right agitator Alex Jones from being banned.

The irony is that posts from conservatives accusing Facebook of censorship are more likely to go viral on Facebook than reporting about the platform's actual overreaches. It's a purposeful paradox that conservatives have exploited to the best of their ability. A deeper irony is that should Trump's allies succeed in their revenge quest, the power they've accumulated through Facebook would probably dissipate overnight.

We opened with a view of Facebook through the eyes of conservative pundits. What follows is a short vision of what it might look like if their campaign against the company succeeds.

Facebook is a ghost town. Republicans and Democrats, in a rare moment of bipartisanship, finally did what Trump wanted — Section 230 has been repealed. But the response wasn't exactly what conservatives had intended. No longer protected by a law that had once shielded it from lawsuits for content posted on the site, the company has gone on a metaphorical rampage.

Rather than back away from content moderation, Facebook has become hypervigilant. Its moderation team, once stretched thin, has increased by a factor of 10. Its fact-checking team, which conservatives derided, is no longer willing to let conservative outlets and personalities slide when they spread false information. Shapiro, Diamond and Silk and others have been kicked off the platform already — Fox News has only barely managed to retain its page.

In fact, more content than ever is being removed every day when ordinary users try to share it — conspiracy theories are taken down, yes, but so are copyrighted images to avoid lawsuits under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to infographics that don't properly show their citations to avoid liability for defamation suits. All of this has hobbled the tech giant, still under pressure to be broken up or further regulated — but executives figure it has to be cheaper and more profitable than leaving it open to more litigation. And users have begun to adapt, reverting to their previous uses of Facebook, sharing pictures and memories with friends and acquaintances.

Meanwhile, traffic to conservative websites has plummeted as a result. The number of takes from outlets like The Federalist railing against the government for allowing this level of repression are legion, but nobody seems to be reading them now that they're not shared as widely on the site they've loathed for so long. This is the Facebook that conservatives wanted — and, oh, how they hate it.