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Facebook Makes Changes To Win Conservative Trust

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.

Per Axios’ 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 against conservatives.

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 removal.
  • 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.”

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