Sen. Hawley: Facebook CEO Says ‘We’ve Struggled With’ Bias

September 20, 2019 Updated: September 22, 2019

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged the company has a problem with political bias, according to Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who spoke to Zuckerberg on Capitol Hill behind closed doors on Sept. 19.

Bias is “an issue we’ve struggled with for a long time,” Zuckerberg said, according to Hawley’s Sept. 19 Twitter post.

Hawley said he confronted Zuckerberg regarding suppression of content of anti-abortion groups, specifically Live Action, an advocacy group led by Lila Rose.

“Zuckerberg admitted there ‘clearly was bias’ in the @LiveAction @LilaGraceRose censorship,” Hawley said.

Facebook informed Live Action on Aug. 30 that Rose’s Facebook page and links to the group’s website were subject to “reduced distribution and other restrictions” after two Live Action videos made a claim labeled “false” by “an independent fact-checker.”

It turned out the “fact-checker” relied on comments by two abortionists. In response, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a letter saying the videos were justified in saying that “abortion is never medically necessary.”

On Sept. 11, Facebook temporarily reversed the Live Action restrictions and said that it would investigate the matter, the group said. Zuckerberg said suppressing the group was a mistake, according to Hawley.

“He said that I was right about that, that they had made a mistake,” Hawley told Fox News.

In another tweet, Hawley said he challenged Zuckerberg to have Facebook “submit to an independent, third-party audit on censorship.”

“Open Facebook’s books up, open their employees to interviews,” Hawley conveyed the conversation to Fox. Zuckerberg declined, he said.

Sen. Joshua Hawley in Washington
Sen. Joshua Hawley in Washington on May 1, 2019. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Hawley also challenged Zuckerberg to address antitrust concerns by selling Facebook-owned social media platform Instagram and WhatsApp messenger.

“If Facebook is serious about privacy, if they’re serious about competition, put their money where their mouth is,” Hawley said.

Zuckerberg declined, he said.

Facebook didn’t respond to a request for comment on Hawley’s remarks, but the company previously acknowledged that it’s been under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission for antitrust concerns.

Bias

Conservatives have been consistently accusing big tech companies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter of suppressing their voices. The companies have denied the accusations, claiming political neutrality.

Zuckerberg’s comments would be the closest any of the companies have come to acknowledging the issue.

The companies do exhibit certain political preferences.

All of them, for instance, prohibit “hate speech,” a concept broadly adopted by the political left, but often shunned by the right, a 2017 Cato survey (pdf) showed.

Brian Amerige, a former Facebook senior engineer, previously said he didn’t see “intentional filtering of conservative perspectives” at the company, but noted that many of the people responsible for policing content “aren’t aware of what non-left-leaning perspectives even are.”

Amerige left Facebook after reaching an impasse with its executives on the hate speech policy and other issues.

“Hate speech can’t be defined consistently and it can’t be implemented reliably, so it ends up being a series of one-off ‘pragmatic’ decisions,” he said.

A similar sentiment was expressed by Nadine Strossen, a law professor and former president of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“These so-called standards are irreducibly subjective. What is one person’s hate speech … is somebody else’s cherished loving speech,” she said in her June 26 Congress testimony.

Facebook not only acknowledged that it can’t draw a clear line between what is and isn’t hate speech, but that it also keeps a portion of its rules secret.

A Facebook spokesperson previously told The Epoch Times that users are partially kept in the dark to prevent them from circumventing the rules, but didn’t respond when asked why the company doesn’t spell out its policies in full and add a rule against circumventing the guidelines.

Trump has reportedly been working on an executive order to address politically biased censorship by social media companies.

Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab
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