The Daily Beast website reported that Facebook assisted in its effort to dox a conservative man who manages Facebook pages focused on political and sports news and commentary.
The June 1 report said that Facebook provided information on the man’s private account activity, adding to concerns about the social media giant’s battered privacy record.
The Daily Beast ran the extensive report on the background of the man, identified as Shawn Brooks, after two Facebook pages he said he co-manages posted a clip of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) speaking at the May 22 Center for American Progress Ideas Conference. The video was slowed down to about 75 percent and, upon spreading online, prompted many to comment she appeared drunk.
Rudy Giuliani, personal lawyer to President Donald Trump, reportedly posted a link to the video on Twitter, asking, “What is wrong with Nancy Pelosi?” and saying her “speech pattern is bizarre.” He apparently later deleted the post and in another tweet called the video a “caricature exaggerating her already halting speech pattern.”
Slowing down speech to 75 percent can create an impression of a slurred, drunken voice, though some viewers have commented on YouTube that even unedited, Pelosi sounded as if inebriated at the event. In fact, Pelosi’s rhetorical irregularities have been satirized for years, as revealed by a cursory YouTube search of the words “Pelosi stuttering.”
Trump posted on Twitter on May 23 a Fox Business clip of several Pelosi’s stutters after she made comments about his behavior, including that she hoped his family, administration, or staff “would have an intervention for the good of the country.”
Brooks said in a June 1 Facebook post that he is one of the administrators of the page Politics WatchDog, which first posted the slowed-down video. But he denied being the one who posted it or the one who slowed it down.
The Daily Beast partly acknowledged so.
“It’s conceivable that someone else actually edited the clip,” the report says.
But the report continues by saying that “a Facebook official, confirming a Daily Beast investigation, said the video was first posted on Politics WatchDog directly from Brooks’ personal Facebook account.”
Brooks accused Facebook of lying about him.
“Facebook was taking heat for not taking down the video so they made me the scapegoat of this Pelosi video which was the final piece for The Daily Beast to throw me under the bus with their article.”
Neither Brooks, nor Facebook, nor The Daily Beast responded to requests for comment.
Privacy, Censorship Issues
If Facebook revealed nonpublic activity of Brooks’s account, it could further undermine its privacy record. The company has already faced a slew of lawsuits and regulatory inquiries about its privacy practices, including investigations by the Federal Trade Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and two state agencies in New York.
Moreover, assisting in doxing Brooks, a black conservative, would further bolster allegations that Facebook suppresses conservative voices.
The Politics WatchDog page is conservative in tone and usually posts clips of news conferences and speeches by politicians, links to news articles, and pro-conservative jokes, based on a review of its content posted over the past few weeks.
Facebook has denied political bias in its content policing, but has ramped up in recent years crackdowns on what it calls “hate speech,” a concept accepted mainly on the left, a 2017 Cato survey (pdf) showed.
CrossFit Inc., the rights holder to the CrossFit fitness regimen, recently announced it was boycotting Facebook and Instagram, abandoning its related pages that had millions of followers due to privacy, censorship, and other concerns.
The Role of Government
Despite a longstanding aversion to government intervention, there have been a growing number voices on the right, and some on the left, calling on the government to step in to prevent social media platforms from censoring lawful political speech.
Trump in early May came to the defense of some conservative commentators who have been banned or suspended from Facebook or Twitter.
His administration also recently set up a website where people can file a report if they believe their social media accounts have been banned, suspended, or otherwise affected because of political bias.
“SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS should advance FREEDOM OF SPEECH,” the site says. “Yet too many Americans have seen their accounts suspended, banned, or fraudulently reported for unclear ‘violations’ of user policies.”
The slowed-down video of Pelosi hasn’t been taken down by Facebook, but it has been furnished with links to several fact-checking sites that point out that it’s slowed down.
Reuters contributed to this report.