The Daily Signal is reporting on the testiest moments in the hearings which took place yesterday before two Senate panels where 42 Senators took turns grilling Zuckerberg on how the personal information of millions of Facebook users ended up in the hands of a political ad firm.
But this wasn’t the only issue raised by concerned lawmakers over the way Facebook is conducting its business. Some of the most testy exchanges took place when Zuckerberg was questioned about the political bias that has embroiled Facebook, such as censoring pro-life content and other conservative views.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz was the most pointed questioner.
“Mr. Zuckerberg, does Facebook consider itself a neutral public forum?” Cruz asked.
“Senator, here is how we think about this: I don’t believe that – there is certain content that clearly we do not allow. Right? Hate speech, terrorist content, nudity, anything that makes people feel unsafe in the community. From that perspective, that’s why we generally try to refer to what we do as a platform for all ideas.”
Cruz wasn’t impressed with this answer.
“Mr. Zuckerberg, I will say there are a great many Americans, who I think are deeply concerned that Facebook and other tech companies are engaged in a pervasive pattern of bias and political censorship. There have been numerous instances with Facebook. In May of 2016, Gizmodo reported that Facebook had purposefully and routinely suppressed conservative stories from trending news, including stories about CPAC, including stories about Mitt Romney, including stories about the Lois Lerner IRS scandal, including stories about Glenn Beck," the senator persisted.
“In addition to that, Facebook has initially shut down the ‘Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day’ page, has blocked a post of a Fox News reporter, has blocked over two dozen Catholic pages, and most recently, blocked Trump supporters Diamond and Silk’s page with 1.2 million Facebook followers, after determining their content and brand were, ‘unsafe to the community.’ To a great many Americans, that appears to be a pervasive pattern of political bias. Do you agree with that assessment?”
Clearly uncomfortable now, Zuckerberg responds: “Senator, let me say a few things about this. First, I understand where that concern is coming from because Facebook and the tech industry are located in Silicon Valley, which is an extremely Left leaning place. And this is actually a concern that I have and that I try to root out in the company is making sure that we don’t have any bias in the work that we do, and I think it is a fair concern that people would at least wonder about.”
“So let me ask this question,” Cruz replied. “Are you aware of any ad or page that has been taken down from Planned Parenthood?”
“Senator, I’m not. But let me just, can I finish?” Zuckerberg asked but Cruz wasn’t finished yet.
“How about MoveOn.org?” the Senator persisted.
“I’m not specifically aware of those,” Zuckerberg said.
“How about any Democratic candidate for office?”
“I’m not specifically aware. I mean, I’m not sure.”
Cruz went on to ask if he knew the political orientation of the 15,000 to 20,000 people working on security and content review. Zuckerberg said no, that they generally don’t ask people about their political orientation when hiring. Nor did he know if any of his employees ever donated to Republican candidates.
“Your testimony says, ‘It is not enough that we just connect people. We have to make sure those connections are positive.’ It says, ‘We have to make sure people aren’t using their voice to hurt people or spread misinformation. We have a responsibility not just to build tools, but to make sure those tools are used for good.’ Mr. Zuckerberg, do you feel it’s your responsibility to assess users whether they are good and positive connections or ones those 15,000 to 20,000 people deem unacceptable or deplorable?” Cruz asked.
“Senator, I think that there are a number of things that we would all agree are clearly bad,” Zuckerberg began. “Foreign interference in our elections, terrorism, self-harm. Those are things…”
“I’m talking about censorship,” Cruz interrupted.
“Oh, well, I think that you would probably agree we should remove terrorist propaganda from the service. So that I agree, I think is clearly bad activity that we want to get down and we are generally proud of how well we do with that. Now, what I can say, and I do want to get this in before the end here, is that I am very committed to making sure that Facebook is a platform for all ideas. That is a very important, founding principle of what we do. We’re proud of the discourse and different ideas that people can share on the service, and that is something that as long as I’m running the company, I’m going to be committed to making sure is the case.”
According to Newsbusters, Senator Ben Sasse was equally tough on Zuckerberg, particularly when he asked the young billionaire to define hate speech.
“You may decide or Facebook may decide it needs to police a whole bunch of speech that I think America might be better off by not having policed by one company that has a really large and powerful platform. Can you define hate speech,” Sasse asked.
“Senator, I think that this is a really hard question," Zuckerberg replied, "and I think it’s one of the reasons we struggle with it. There are certain definitions that — that we — that we have around, you know, calling for violence or . . .”
Sasse went on to hammer Zuckerberg about how too many young Americans are embracing an erroneous idea about the First Amendment and think nothing of censoring speech they don’t like rather than engaging in constructive dialogue.
“You used language of safety and protection earlier,” Sasse said. “We see this happening on college campuses all across the county. It's dangerous. 40 percent of Americans under age 35 tell pollsters they think the First Amendment is dangerous because you might use your freedom to say something that hurts somebody else’s feelings. Guess what? There are some really passionately held views about the abortion issue on this panel today. Can you imagine a world where you might decide that pro-lifers are prohibited from speaking about their abortion views on content — on your platform?”
“I certainly would not want that to be the case,” Zuckerberg said. “But it might be really unsettling to people who have had an abortion to have an open debate about that? Wouldn’t it? It might be, but I don't think that...would fit any of the definition of what we have, but I do generally agree with the point that you're making which is as we're able to technologically shift towards especially having AI [artificial intelligence] proactively look at content, I think that's going to create massive questions for society,” he in part responded.
Sasse concluded by reiterating that it’s clear that violence plus human and sex trafficking “have no place on your platform, but vigorous debates, adults need to engage in vigorous debates.”
Zuckerberg faces further questioning today, but what has been revealed thus far about the operation of Facebook is deeply troubling to anyone who values the protection of First Amendment rights.
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