The long-awaited results of Facebook’s year-long audit have
been released. Unsurprisingly, the report shows that conservatives don’t trust
the social media platform for a variety of reasons.
exclusive report of the audit results, conservative complaints about Facebook
fell into six broad categories. These include concerns that Facebook algorithms
make it more difficult to spread conservative content, that community standards
that label some long-held traditional beliefs as hate speech, that enforcement
was biased against conservatives, that Facebook labeling an ad as “political” would
jeopardize tax-exempt status, about long approval times for time-sensitive ads,
and that Facebook employees writing rules and community standards were biased
The audit was conducted by Jon Kyl, the former Republican senator
from Arizona at Facebook’s request. Kyl describes the process in the Wall
Street Journal today. The audit consisted of 133 interviews with “individuals,
groups, and lawmakers who either use, study or could potentially regulate
Facebook,” beginning in August 2018.
In response to the audit’s findings, Facebook has already
committed to a series of reforms that are specifically intended to benefit
conservatives. The first reforms include:
- Oversight board – A board will be formed to hear
appeals for difficult content-removal cases.
- Explanations of news-feed rankings – Facebook is
launching “transparency tools” that will explain why the content that users see
in their feed is there.
- Page transparency – Page owners can now see when
content has been removed for violating community standards and when
distribution is reduced due to “false” ratings from fact-checkers.
- Staffing – Facebook has hired four new employees
to work with small groups and answer questions and complaints about content
- Ad labeling requirements – Rather than labeling ads as “political,” ads
will now be classified as “about social issues, elections or politics.”
- Ad policies – Facebook has changed a policy that
prohibited ads that showed medical tubes in patients. The change will make it easier
to get pro-life ads approved.
“We believe these and other measures described in our
interim report are steps in the right direction,” Kyl writes. “Yet these are
complicated issues, some of which involve conflicting opinions even among
conservatives. For that reason, restoring trust fully may remain an elusive
goal. Conservatives no doubt will, and should, continue to press Facebook to
address the concerns that arose in our survey.”
In a statement,
Facebook VP of Global Affairs and Communications Nick Clegg, wrote, “Regardless
of one’s own political views, this is about whether we apply our own policies
fairly to all sides, and whether those policies begin with an understanding of
how core groups of users express their beliefs.”
“While we err on the side of free speech, there are critical
exceptions,” Clegg added. “We don’t allow content that might encourage offline
harm or is intended to intimidate, exclude or silence people. And we work to
slow and reduce the spread of content like debunked hoaxes and clickbait by
downranking it in News Feed. We know we need to listen more as we work to
strike the right balance with these policies.”
“Even if we could craft them in a way that pleased all
sides, when dealing with such nuanced issues, involving policies that apply to
billions of posts, we will inevitably make some bad calls, some of which may
appear to strike harder at conservatives,” Clegg acknowledged.
The new reforms are merely the first step in Facebook’s
attempts to fairly enforce its rules. The process is ongoing and Kyl’s team
will issue another report in a few months.
Many conservatives on Facebook have spent time in “Facebook jail” for seemingly innocuous posts or had content removed will understandably be skeptical of the social media giant’s commitment to fairness, but today’s announcements mark a significant victory for both conservative users of social media and free markets in general. As a private platform, the company does have the right to enforce its own rules and restrict objectionable content, but it has responded to consumer pressure to enforce its rules more fairly. This is not only good news for conservatives on Facebook but also for advocates of small government who were skeptical of conservative calls to regulate the social media platforms in the name of “fairness.”