On Friday, the Washington Free Beacon, citing a report at Gizmodo, reported that employees at Facebook, the site now known as the “world’s most dangerous censor,” asked CEO Mark Zuckerberg what responsibility they have to stop Donald Trump.
The Free Beacon said:
Facebook employees submit questions weekly to the site’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, asking repeatedly what the social media company can do to block Donald Trump’s presidential bid.
The question–“What responsibility does Facebook have to help prevent President Trump in 2017?”–was the fifth most popular submission from a March 4 poll submitted to Zuckerberg before an upcoming questions-and-answer session, Gizmodo reported Friday.
Recently, Zuckerberg took a not-so-subtle swipe at Trump and his plan to build a wall on the southern U.S. border.
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“As I look around and I travel around the world, I’m starting to see people and nations turning inward, against this idea of a connected world and a global community,” he said. “I hear fearful voices calling for building walls and distancing people they label as others. For blocking free expression, for slowing immigration, reducing trade, and in some cases around the world even cutting access to the Internet.”
A screenshot of the poll, given to Gizmodo, shows the question as the fifth most popular.
It’s not particularly surprising the question was asked, or that some Facebook employees are anti-Trump. The question and Zuckerberg’s statements on Tuesday align with the consensus politics of Silicon Valley: pro-immigration, pro-trade, pro-expansion of the internet.
Here’s a screenshot of that poll:
But as UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh noted, Facebook is under no obligation to provide balanced coverage.
“Facebook can promote or block any material that it wants,” he said, reiterating something we’ve noted time and time again. “Facebook has the same First Amendment right as the New York Times. They can completely block Trump if they want. They block him or promote him.”
Moreover, Facebook repeatedly claims it supports a free and open exchange of ideas, even though its actions tell a much different story.
With Facebook, we don’t know what we’re not seeing. We don’t know what the bias is or how that might be affecting how we see the world.
Facebook has toyed with skewing news in the past. During the 2012 presidential election, Facebook secretly tampered with 1.9 million user’s news feeds. The company also tampered with news feeds in 2010 during a 61-million-person experiment to see how Facebook could impact the real-world voting behavior of millions of people. An academic paper was published about the secret experiment, claiming that Facebook increased voter turnout by more than 340,000 people. In 2012, Facebook alsodeliberately experimented on its users’ emotions. The company, again, secretly tampered with the news feeds of 700,000 people and concluded that Facebook can basically make you feel whatever it wants you to.
And, Gizmodo noted, the site could gradually remove pro-Trump stories off its site and no one — except maybe the authors — would know. Yours truly learned this back in 2014 when Facebook surreptitiously and falsely flagged articles mentioning Islam as “unsafe.”
Volokh said the only way the company would overstep the law is if it removed pro-Trump material in coordination with another campaign. At that point, it would become a campaign contribution.
Facebook, however, said it would never try to influence how people vote.
“Voting is a core value of democracy and we believe that supporting civic participation is an important contribution we can make to the community. We encourage any and all candidates, groups, and voters to use our platform to share their views on the election and debate the issues. We as a company are neutral – we have not and will not use our products in a way that attempts to influence how people vote,” the company told Gizmodo.
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