Caving to critical voices on the right

It’s interesting to learn that there’s turmoil at Facebook over how to deal with Trump’s election frauds.

“I do think we’re headed for a problematic scenario where Facebook is going to be used to aggressively undermine the legitimacy of the US elections, in a way that has never been possible in history,” one Facebook employee wrote in a group on Workplace, the company’s internal communication platform, earlier this week.

For the past week, this scenario has been a topic of heated discussion inside Facebook and was a top question for its leader. Some 2,900 employees asked Zuckerberg to address it publicly during a company-wide meeting on Thursday, which he partly did, calling it “an unprecedented position.”

Zuckerberg’s remarks came amid growing internal concerns about the company’s competence in handling misinformation, and the precautions it is taking to ensure its platform isn’t used to disrupt or mislead ahead of the US presidential election. Though Facebook says it has committed more money and resources to avoid repeating its failures during the 2016 election, some employees believe it isn’t enough.

Interesting, because lots of us who don’t work for Facebook think the same thing.

While there are signs Facebook will stand up to Trump in cases where he violates its rules — as on Wednesday when it removed a video post from the president in which he claimed that children are “almost immune” to COVID-19 — there are others who suggest the company is caving to critical voices on the right. In another recent Workplace post, a senior engineer collected internal evidence that showed Facebook was giving preferential treatment to prominent conservative accounts to help them remove fact-checks from their content.

The company responded by removing his post and restricting internal access to the information he cited. On Wednesday the engineer was fired, according to internal posts seen by BuzzFeed News.

So that’s not encouraging.

Last Friday, at another all-hands meeting, employees asked Zuckerberg how right-wing publication Breitbart News could remain a Facebook News partner after sharing a video that promoted unproven treatments and said masks were unnecessary to combat the novel coronavirus. The video racked up 14 million views in six hours before it was removed from Breitbart’s page, though other accounts continued to share it.

Zuckerberg “danced around the question,” BuzzFeed says. That’s not encouraging either.

But some of Facebook’s own employees gathered evidence they say shows Breitbart — along with other right-wing outlets and figures including Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, Trump supporters Diamond and Silk, and conservative video production nonprofit Prager University — has received special treatment that helped it avoid running afoul of company policy. They see it as part of a pattern of preferential treatment for right-wing publishers and pages, many of which have alleged that the social network is biased against conservatives.

Let’s hope they won’t all be fired.

The internal evidence gathered by the engineer aligns with the experience of a journalist who works for one of Facebook’s US fact-checking partners. They told BuzzFeed News that conservative pages often complain directly to the company.

“Of the publishers that don’t follow the procedure, it seems to be mostly ones on the right. Instead of appealing to the fact-checker they immediately call their rep at Facebook,” said the journalist, who declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly. “They jump straight up and say ‘censorship, First Amendment, freedom.’”

Normal procedure is to talk to the low-ranking fact checker, but conservatives (mostly) instead go to a friendly executive – they pull strings instead of arguing the merits.

Facebook typically assigns dedicated partner managers to pages with large followings or big ad budgets. They help their clients maximize their use of the platform. But in the cases identified in the engineer’s post, partner reps appear to have sought preferential treatment for right-wing publishers. This resulted in phone calls to fact-checking partners from people at Facebook, and instances where misinformation strikes appear to have been removed from content without a fact-checker’s knowledge or involvement.

The right to lie to the public is sacred, yeah?

It’s worrisome stuff.

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