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Nate Jackson / Aug. 21, 2019

Is Facebook's Audit Merely Window Dressing?

The social-media giant is making changes to address conservative complaints of bias.

Former GOP Sen. Jon Kyl was tapped by Facebook to conduct a Robert Mueller-like investigation into accusations of the company’s bias against conservatives. Kyl publicly released his findings Tuesday. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed he wrote:

Facebook placed no restrictions on how I could conduct the work. My team at the law firm Covington & Burling LLP began conducting interviews in May 2018. We cast a wide net to include as many aspects of conservatism as possible — from organizations focused on Christian values or protecting free expression to those focused on tax policy and small government. We identified individuals, groups and lawmakers who either use, study or could potentially regulate Facebook, and interviewed 133 of them. To encourage them to speak freely, we told interviewees we wouldn’t publish their identities. We presented our preliminary findings to Facebook in early August 2018 and have been discussing them with the company ever since.

A year later, we now know that Kyl “found conservatives’ concerns generally fall within the following six buckets: Content distribution and algorithms. … Content policies. … Content enforcement. … Ad policies. … Ad enforcement. … Workforce viewpoint diversity.” We’ve addressed many of those concerns in the past, and we won’t rehash it all here, but the short of it is that Facebook certainly seems to discriminate against conservative viewpoints in each of those “buckets.”

But Kyl says, “Facebook has made several changes that are responsive to our findings, and we understand more are being considered.” Those changes include things like an oversight board for content-removal appeals, explanations and transparency for algorithms, four more staff to deal with complaints, and ad-policy changes that would effectively allow for more pro-life content.

We’d generally conclude two things. First, Kyl obviously wants to show that he was “effective,” so winning some concessions from Facebook is a feather in his hat. Second, Facebook has a vested interest in the appearance of fairness. Axios, which first reported the findings, sums up the leftist view of the optics: “While there has been little evidence that Facebook is knowingly biased against conservatives, the release of the audit, and further continuation of it, shows that company takes the allegations seriously.” Not that it matters to conservatives, Axios gripes: “Accusations of political bias against Facebook and Big Tech have become a political weapon wielded by conservatives. It’s doubtful an audit will stop that effort.”

Pardon us, but conservatives didn’t make this a political weapon. Facebook did by its proven biased standards, Axios’s cavalier dismissal of “little evidence” notwithstanding. And we have little reason to believe that Facebook’s response to a chummy audit — even by a Republican for the smoke-and-mirrors purpose of “objectivity” — is anything but window dressing. In that sense, Axios is right and, as Kyl put it, “Conservatives no doubt will, and should, continue to press Facebook to address the concerns that arose in our survey.”

Remember, Facebook claims to be a platform for users to express opinions freely, but it behaves like a publisher in choosing what content is acceptable. Having it both ways is not conducive to free speech.

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