After two days of Congressional hearings with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, American perceptions of the power of social media became clear. After 2012, Democrats and the media celebrated President Obama’s Facebook campaign strategy. But in 2016, with the Donald Trump election, Facebook became a malignant ghetto of “fake news” and inappropriate election manipulation.
Congress is right to ask how Facebook’s massive popularity could lead to clear violations of privacy and manipulation of our political process. But there is more to discuss. Questions of bias and censorship demand answers, despite the reticence to seek those answers from the political left.
The grilling by Republican senators was classic. Ben Sasse (Nebraska) asked Zuckerberg how he defines “hate speech” (which Facebook pretends to ban), noting that many young people find the First Amendment to allow for “hate speech.” Zuckerberg offered no legitimate response.
Ted Cruz (Texas) zeroed in on the hard evidence of Facebook demonstrating a “pervasive pattern of political bias,” citing Facebook’s actions to keep major conservative stories off its “trending” topics for readers. As evidence, Cruz pointed to Facebook’s shutting down of the “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” page. Two dozen Catholic pages have been blocked, as well.
To his credit, Zuckerberg replied, “I understand where the concern is coming from because Facebook and the tech industry are located in Silicon Valley, which is an extremely left-leaning place.” Just acknowledging that reality sends shock waves down the spines of Democratic legislators, who predictably avoided the subject of bias in their softball questions.
Cruz was relentless in his questions. He asked if Zuckerberg had ever heard of a Planned Parenthood page being taken down. No. How about a MoveOn.org page? Nope. Any Democratic candidates’ pages? No, again.
Bias complaints from the right usually fail to acknowledge the balance provided by such outlets as Fox News. But as a monopoly, left-leaning Facebook has no competition, which is why it is important that the social media giant play things down the middle in an apolitical way – or at least openly admit who they really are.