Facebook Hammered Over 'Bias' Audit

Facebook was taking hits from the left and the right over the release Tuesday (Aug. 20) of the findings, to date, of a review of conservative concerns about a liberal bias in content choices on the social media site. 

The audit was conducted by a former Republican senator polling conservatives about their issues. But that didn't please one current Republican senator and harsh critic of social media. But neither did it please a group on the opposite side of the issue. 

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who is inarguably Big Tech's biggest Senate critic, is definitely concerned about potential anti-conservative bias by Big Tech, but he is no fan of the audit, which Facebook launched last year after CEO Mark Zuckerberg was grilled on the Hill over the bias issue. 

“Merely asking somebody to listen to conservatives’ concerns isn’t an ‘audit,’ it’s a smokescreen disguised as a solution," said Hawley. "Facebook should conduct an actual audit by giving a trusted third party access to its algorithm, its key documents, and its content moderation protocols. Then Facebook should release the results to the public.” Hawley spoke at a White House meeting of conservative bloggers, where he agreed that their voices were being discriminated against on social media. 

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, agreed with Hawley that the audit missed the mark, but for different reasons. Gupta said the audit was "a make-believe solution in search of a phantom problem." 

"Rather than allowing baseless allegations of so-called anti-conservative bias to distract them, Facebook officials should focus on the civil and human rights problems and white supremacist propaganda overrunning its platform," said Gupta, adding that releasing a "face-saving" report (or in this case Facebook saving) just didn't cut it.  

The divide between Gupta and Hawley reflects the one between the two parties, where Republicans say conservative bias is a legitimate threat while Democrats call it a distraction from the issue of racist and nationalistic hate speech that they argue Republicans don't do enough to discourage, or in the case of the President, actively encourage.  

The conference has joined with over four dozen other civil rights groups to call on Big TEch to do more to reduce hate speech and other conduct that "endangers" marginalized communities.  

Such criticism notwithstanding, Facebook has signaled it will continue to "examine, and where necessary adjust, our own policies and practices in the future," conceding that "we will inevitably make some bad [content] calls, some of which may appear to strike harder at conservatives." 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.