Jul 17, 2018

Critics say Facebook has bent too far to appease conservatives

Sarah Grillo

Facebook is facing new criticism — including at a Congressional hearing Tuesday — from publishers, politicians and pundits for over-correcting itself in handling allegations of bias against conservatives.

Why it matters: The company takes regular flak from the right for censoring conservative voices. Now critics on the left — along with some non-partisan experts —are saying Facebook is bending too far in addressing conservative complaints. Facebook, which has promised to improve the quality of new on its platform, is stuck in the middle.

The big picture: Facebook says it's committed to values of openness, free speech and accessibility. Those commitments are cast into doubt whenever it takes action on its platform against individual voices or groups to moderate their pages or posts.

  • Because of this, when particular pages continually post misleading stories, the company prefers to downrank and punish them with advertising restrictions rather than ban them outright.
  • Bottom line: Critics don't think this strategy adequately addresses the problem Facebook wishes to solve (and says it's working to solve through a multi-million dollar ad campaign) — eliminating fake news.

The latest: Facebook's head of product policy and counterterrorism, Monika Bickert, was grilled over Facebook's decision to give a financial donation to Republican Rep. Devin Nunes by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) in a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday.

  • Jayapal alleged that Facebook is "bending too much to appease right-wing interests that I think are undermining our democracy."
  • Bickert responded, "We try to be even-handed and open about donations."

The hearing comes one day after reports surfaced about a private meeting between Facebook and publishing executives, in which newsroom leaders like Huffington Post editor Lydia Polgreen and Buzzfeed News editor Ben Smith criticized the platform's deference to conservatives.

  • According to The Wall Street Journal, Smith said that the number and type of conservative publications in attendance at the event indicated that Facebook had bought into the idea being promoted by conservatives that mainstream news outlets need to be counterbalanced by right-leaning opinion outlets on the platform.
  • Smith and Polgreen reportedly criticized this way of thinking, arguing that some right-leaning outlets, in particular The Daily Caller (whose editor Neil Patel was also in attendance), do not uphold the same journalistic standards as other right-leaning outlets, like The Weekly Standard.

Last week, Facebook faced backlash for a post defending its decision not to ban InfoWars and other entities that have a history of posting debunked conspiracy theories.

  • "We just don’t think banning Pages for sharing conspiracy theories or false news is the right way to go," the social network said in a Twitter post, responding to the New York Times' Kevin Roose.

Facebook has taken efforts to address allegations of bias on both the left and right.

  • The company said in May that it is bringing in two outside advisers — one to conduct a legal audit of its impact on underrepresented communities and communities of color, and another to advise the company on potential bias against conservative voices.

Go deeper

Blue Cross Blue Shield insurers sue CVS, alleging drug pricing fraud

Photo: John Lamparski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Six Blue Cross Blue Shield insurers have sued CVS Health, alleging the pharmacy chain overcharged them based on "artificially inflated prices" for generic drugs and concealed the true cash prices of those drugs.

The big picture: CVS has faced legal scrutiny over its cash discount programs since 2015, and this lawsuit adds big names to a mounting problem.

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

New Zealand has only eight active novel coronavirus cases and no COVID-19 patients in hospital after another day of zero new infections. However, the death toll rose to 22.

Zoom in: A top health official told a briefing a 96-year-old woman "was regarded to having recovered from COVID-19 at the time of her death, and COVID-19 is not recorded as the primary cause of her death on her death certificate." But it was decided to include her in the overall tally of deaths related to the virus.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 5,690,951 — Total deaths: 355,575 — Total recoveries — 2,350,071Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 1,699,073 — Total deaths: 100,396 — Total recoveries: 391,508 — Total tested: 15,192,481Map.
  3. Public health: CDC issues guidelines for reopening officesFauci says data is "really quite evident" against hydroxychloroquine.
  4. States: California hospitals strained by patients in MexicoTexas Supreme Court blocks mail-in expansion to state voters.
  5. Business: MGM plans to reopen major Las Vegas resorts in June — African American business owners have seen less relief from PPP, Goldman Sachs says.
  6. Tech: AI will help in the pandemic — but it might not be in time for this one.
  7. World: EU proposes a massive pandemic rescue package.
  8. 1 🎶 thing: Local music venues get rocked by coronavirus.
  9. 🎧 Podcast: Trump vs. Twitter ... vs. Trump.
  10. What should I do? When you can be around others after contracting the coronavirus — Traveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  11. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy