A new report suggests Facebook fired an employee for calling out pro-right wing bias

The social media giant denies that it fired an employee who pointed out the site's double-standard

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published August 7, 2020 5:43PM (EDT)

Mark Zuckerberg (Getty/Gerard Julien)
Mark Zuckerberg (Getty/Gerard Julien)

A new report claims that Facebook fired one of its employees after the individual compiled evidence of the social media platform giving preferential treatment to right-wing accounts and news sources.

A senior engineer at Facebook was reportedly fired after he collected internal evidence that the company was biased toward major right-wing accounts in helping them remove fact-checks from the material they posted on the platform, according to BuzzFeed News. The former employee had posted his findings in Workplace, an internal communications platform used by the company akin to Slack. Facebook reportedly responded by taking down his post, limiting internal access to the materials that he cited, and firing him.

BuzzFeed News reports that the firing of this Facebook employee has caused others at the Silicon Valley giant to "fear speaking critically about the company in internal discussions. One person said they were deleting old posts and comments, while another said this was 'hardly the first time the respectful workplace guidelines have been used to snipe a prominent critic of company policies/ethics.'"

That person added to BuzzFeed News, "[The senior engineer] was a conscience of this company, and a tireless voice for us doing the right thing."

Facebook denied the reason for the firing. "We have an open culture and encourage employees to speak out about concerns they have," a Facebook Company spokesperson told Salon in a statement. "These individuals were not terminated for that but because they broke the company's rules. We take appropriate action when employees fail to uphold our policies."

The site also reports that, according to a journalist who works for one of Facebook's American fact-checking partners, right-wing pages are more likely than left-wing ones to call a representative at Facebook and complain of censorship and First Amendment violations if they get fact-checked. This individual added that "I think Facebook is a bit afraid of them because of the Trump administration." By contrast, BuzzFeed News reports that progressive sites are treated far worse: Fact-checkers do not seem to be directly contacted on their behalf, at least according to one inside source, and in general left-wing pages have found Facebook to be much less responsive.

During a Thursday meeting, Zuckerberg apparently did not provide a direct answer to questions about what Facebook would do if Trump tries to delegitimize the 2020 election results should he lose to Joe Biden. Facebook employees have reportedly been particularly concerned about the possibility that Trump will lose and deny that he lost, and the company will not label his posts as misinformation.

A spokesperson from Facebook declined to answer a question from Salon about whether the company believes Trump or any other president should concede if they lose in an election.

The report on Facebook's alleged right-wing bias is particularly troubling in light of a report Thursday from the Tech Transparency Project which revealed a purported "glitch" on Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) that favored pro-Trump content and anti-Biden content. The Tech Transparency Project report  found that Instagram hashtags which were critical of Biden appeared next to his name during generic Instagram searches for Biden, but the same kind of searches concealed hashtags critical of Trump. The company attributed this discrepancy to a "bug."

The spokesperson from Facebook declined to answer a question from Salon about whether it acknowledges the parallels between the reports on right-wing bias in Facebook fact-checking and the supposed "bug" on Instagram.

There have been concerns that Facebook has been appeasing Trump and pro-Trump media outlets in a haphazard attempt to maintain objectivity. Facebook employees protested the company in May because of these concerns and some advertisers have withdrawn support. It does not help that Zuckerberg apparently met with Trump at the White House in the fall of 2019 or that Trump has already made it clear that he will retaliate against social media outlets which do things that he thinks are politically harmful to him. In May he signed an executive order that could exempt social media platforms from the protections of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, something that if followed through upon could leave the company liable to the content posted by its users. He did this in response to Twitter fact-checking two of his tweets.

Trump's attempts to control social media outlets so that they act in ways that are favorable to his political interests pose a direct threat to the First Amendment.

"The threat by Donald Trump to shut down social media platforms that he finds objectionable is a dangerous overreaction by a thin-skinned president. Any such move would be blatantly unconstitutional under the First Amendment," Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe told Salon by email in May after the president announced he would retaliate against Twitter for fact-checking two of his tweets. "That doesn't make the threat harmless, however, because the president has many ways in which he can hurt individual companies, and his threat to do so as a way of silencing dissent is likely to chill freedom of expression and will undermine constitutional democracy in the long run."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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