After more than a year’s worth of hearings discussing anti-conservative bias at Facebook, conservative lawmakers got the third party audit they wanted, but are dissatisfied with the methodology and the results.
In 2018, Facebook selected former Arizona senator John Kyl, a Republican, to lead an audit of the social media platform to evaluate liberal bias by interviewing conservative Facebook users about their perception of bias and experience on the platform.
But conservatives and liberals alike mocked the audit when it was released earlier this week for failing to examine Facebook’s algorithms and content moderation practices for evidence of bias.
“The best parts of the Kyl report are separate from the bias issue it was commissioned to address: the valuable assurances of transparency from Facebook, the continued development of tools to clarify why users see what they do on the platform, and amplified attention to improperly labeling content ‘political’ when that designation could threaten a nonprofit’s tax-exempt status,” Competitive Enterprise Institute Vice President for Policy Wayne Crews told InsideSources in a statement.
In a press release, Facebook clarified that this report is part of an “ongoing process” and “Senator Kyl and his team will report again in a few months’ time.”
Left-leaning publication Vice News published a report in 2018 suggesting that Kyl’s association with anti-Muslim figures and groups should disqualify him from leading an audit of alleged bias at Facebook, even though the point of the audit was to specifically address potential anti-conservative bias, not Muslim bias.
Muslim Advocates, an American advocacy group, slammed Kyl’s report in a statement yesterday, calling it a “smokescreen masking the reality that the company continues to allow violent, white nationalist content to thrive on its platforms.”
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), one of the most outspoken conservative critics of Big Tech in Washington, also dismissed Kyl’s report as a “smokescreen” in his own statement.
“Merely asking somebody to listen to conservatives’ concerns isn’t an ‘audit,’ it’s a smokescreen disguised as a solution,” he said. “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, who believes companies like Facebook harbor anti-conservative bias, introduced a bill a few months ago that would nullify Section 230 protections for social media platforms that do not moderate their content in a “politically neutral” way.
(Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects internet platforms like Facebook from legal consequences if their users post illegal content.)
But other conservatives, liberals and free speech advocates worry that lawmakers’ focus on anti-conservative bias will lead to government control of speech.
According to Kyl’s report, Facebook responded to conservative concerns about bias by sharing more information about why the platform shows certain posts or ads (with clickable links like “Why am I seeing this post?”) and introducing an appeals process for users whose posts are removed by Facebook.
Kyl, a self-described conservative, said in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that “these and other measures described in our interim report are steps in the right direction,” but encouraged conservatives to continue to be skeptical of Facebook.
“The report errs when it claims ‘Facebook’s policies and their application have the potential to restrict free expression,'” Crews said. “As a private entity, Facebook cannot censor or threaten ‘free expression,’ as that is a civil right under the First Amendment, which exists to restrain government from trampling such rights. The real threat to free expression is calls from Facebook and political actors and commentators on the left and right for government regulation of speech on social media platforms. Inviting government to regulate political speech is where censorship as a genuine threat raises its ugly head.”
Axios reported in May 2018 that a third party is also conducting an investigation into whether Facebook is biased toward people of color.