Facebook staffers routinely worked to deplatform or censor conservative media outlets such as Breitbart over the objection of managers who were trying not to generate political reprisals, according to a revealing new report.
The Wall Street Journal noted that internal debates of right-leaning content, which were noted in message-board conversations that the newspaper reviewed, are renewing allegations and concerns that the social media giant treats news organizations differently depending on their political perspective.
Breitbart was singled out for special attention, according to the Journal, after Facebook staffers sought to remove the outlet’s stories from the News Tab function. Efforts to do so ramped up after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis in May 2020.
After one staff member asked about censoring Breitbart’s stories, one senior researcher replied: “I can also tell you that we saw drops in trust in CNN 2 years ago: would we take the same approach for them too?”
By last year, the platform started tracking “strikes” for stories and content deemed to be false by third-party fact-checking services, with repeat offenders banned from posting materials. As such, the effort to tag conservative outlets for allegedly false information grew, the WSJ reported.
“The documents reviewed by the Journal didn’t render a verdict on whether bias influences its decisions overall,” the paper said. “They do show that employees and their bosses have hotly debated whether and how to restrain right-wing publishers, with more-senior employees often providing a check on agitation from the rank and file. The documents viewed by the Journal, which don’t capture all of the employee messaging, didn’t mention equivalent debates over left-wing publications.”
Meanwhile, other documents the paper reviewed show that the management teams at Facebook often sharply concentrate on how to avoid allegations of bias — so much so that decisions are often made with political considerations in mind.
However, a spokesman for the company denied that.
“We make changes to reduce problematic or low-quality content to improve people’s experiences on the platform, not because of a page’s political point of view,” spokesman Andy Stone told the Journal. “When it comes to changes that will impact public pages like publishers, of course, we analyze the effect of the proposed change before we make it.”
The paper’s report is just the latest in a string of allegations revealed by whistleblowers about the social media behemoths’ inner workers, indicating that the pursuit of profits often clashes with users’ needs.
And in recent days, Facebook staffers were told that more revelations were coming.
Vice President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg has informed staff in a Saturday memo that “we need to steel ourselves for more bad headlines in the coming days, I’m afraid,” Axios reported.
The new disclosures were expected to drop on Monday from several news outlets that were provided leaked materials from Frances Haugen, the most recent whistleblower who earlier this month dropped bombshells in reports and in congressional testimony. An embargo on the information fell apart on Friday, meaning the new, damaging information could come at any time.
One story that broke on Friday concerned a new whistleblower who provided information to the Securities and Exchange Commission that the social media platform blew off concerns over alleged hate speech and misinformation because of concerns about stunting financial growth.
The whistleblower’s name has not been released, but reports noted the person provided testimony under oath to the SEC. The person said that in 2017 Tucker Bounds, a Facebook communications senior staffer, said hate speech on the platform was just a “flash in the pan” and though “some legislators will get pissy,” the platform is “printing money in the basement.”