Senate Republicans rush to investigate allegations of Facebook news bias -- still refuse to hold hearings for SCOTUS nominee

Only one day after Gizmodo reported the social media giant may have suppressed conservatives and the GOP is on it

By Sophia Tesfaye
May 10, 2016 9:35PM (UTC)
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Mark Zuckerberg (Reuters/Stephen Lam)

As if the ineptitude of Mitch McConnell's Senate is not humiliating enough, Republicans have just performed a most brazen bit of ideological hypocrisy that rivals any of the nonsensical positions put forth by the newly minted presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

The Republican Party is such a joke it would be funny if it weren't so scary.


Republicans on theSenate’s Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee have sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg one day after a Gizmodo report based on the account of one unnamed former Facebook staffer alleged that the social media giant's news sharing service deliberately suppressed conservative news and news from conservative outlets.

"Have Facebook news curators in fact manipulated the content of the Trending Topics section, either by targeting news stories related to conservative views for exclusion or by injecting non-trending content?" South Dakota Senator John Thune wrote in a letter to Zuckerberg Tuesday. The conservative chairman of the Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over media and internet issues, asked Zuckerberg to “arrange for your staff including employees responsible for trending topics to brief committee staff on this issue.”

On Monday, tech site Gizmodo reported that at least one former Facebook employee accused Facebook of suppressing conservative news.


"I’d come on shift and I’d discover that CPAC or Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck or popular conservative topics wouldn’t be trending because either the curator didn’t recognize the news topic or it was like they had a bias against Ted Cruz," the former Facebook contractor, who identified himself as a conservative, told Gizmodo, revealing that humans, not an algorithm, control Facebook's vaunted news aggregator.

For its part, Facebook quickly denied the allegations. "There are rigorous guidelines in place for the review team to ensure consistency and neutrality," wrote Facebook's Tom Stocky on Monday.

Of course, conservatives were still quick to jump on the story.


"It is beyond disturbing to learn that this power is being used to silence viewpoints and stories that don't fit someone else's agenda," a rushed press release from the Republican Party read Monday evening.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus welcomed the reprieve from Donald Trump vs. Paul Ryan drama to demand that "Facebook must answer for conservative censorship" and promote #MakeThisTrend, not on Facebook, but on rival social media platform Twitter:


Some of Senate Republicans' demands for Facebook and Zuckerberg included:

1) Please describe Facebook’s organization structure for the Trending Topics feature, and the steps for determining included topics. Who is ultimately responsible for approving its content?

2) Have Facebook news curators in fact manipulated the content of the Trending Topics section, either by targeting news stories related to conservative views for exclusion or by injecting non-trending content?

3) What steps is Facebook taking to investigate claims of politically motivated manipulation of news stories in the Trending Topics section? If such claims are substantiated, what steps will Facebook take to hold the responsible individuals accountable?

4) In a statement responding to the allegations, Facebook has claimed to have “rigorous guidelines in place for the review team” to prevent “the suppression of political perspectives” or the “prioritization of one viewpoint ver another or one news outlet over another.”

a. When did Facebook first introduce these guidelines?

b. Please provide a copy of these guidelines, as well as any changes or amendments since January 2014.

c. Does Facebook provide training for its employees related to these guidelines? If so, describe what the training consists of, as well as its frequency.

d. How does Facebook determine compliance with these guidelines? Does it conduct audits? If so, how often? What steps are taken when a violation occurs?

5) Does Facebook maintain a record of curators decisions to inject a story into the Trending Topics section or target a story for removal? If such a record is not maintained, can such decisions be reconstructed or determined based on an analysis of the Trending Topics product?

a. If so, how many stories have curators excluded that represented conservative viewpoints or topics of interest to conservatives? How many stories did curators inject that were not, in fact, trending?

b. Please provide a list of all news stories removed from or injected into the Trending Topics section since January 2014.

What conservative Senator Thune did not mention in his letter investigating the dealings of a private media company, however, is that he actually voted to prohibit the FCC from enacting a so-called "Fairness Doctrine" in 2007 -- along with the rest of Republicans in Congress at the time.

In fact, such government oversight is supposedly against the very conservative orthodoxy Thune and the Republican Party have preached for years. But alas, in the year of Trump, why hide your hypocrisy? At least in this case, Republicans were quick to rip off the veil of dignity and to freely express their brazen hypocrisy in the name of outrage.


Again, the parody Republicans have become would be funny if it weren't so infuriating.

While Republicans in the Senate rush to meddle in the curation of social media trending topics, for nearly two months now they've refused to even hold hearings for President Obama's nominee to replace deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's Deputy Politics Editor and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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Conservatives Facebook Gizmodo Senate Republicans