The Stew Reporting on government and politics

Facebook fesses up

Politics | Report finds the platform puts those on the right at a disadvantage
by Harvest Prude
Posted 8/22/19, 03:50 pm

WASHINGTON—Facebook says it is trying to combat the perception of anti-conservative bias in how it operates. But some who have been burned by the social media giant’s liberal bent say the changes don’t go far enough.

Facebook asked former Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and the California law firm Covington & Burling LLP to conduct the audit in response to ongoing concerns about bias from members of Congress. During a yearlong investigation, Kyl and the Covington team interviewed 133 politicians, organizations, and individuals. They concluded Facebook’s policies created a disadvantage for those on the ideological right, but they did not reach a definitive judgment about whether bias was baked into the platform, according to eight pages of preliminary findings released this week.

Interviewees said Facebook more often puts liberal content in users’ news feeds, its policies about hate speech disproportionately affect pro-life groups, it takes longer to approve ad buys from conservative political campaigns, and liberal bias on the part of Facebook employees skews the platform against divergent points of view.

Kyl’s report also said Facebook’s efforts to crack down on fake news and propaganda favored third-party fact-checkers on the ideological left, including Snopes, Politifact, and the Associated Press.

Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs and communications, noted in a blog post that his company has made some initial changes in response to a briefing on the report last year. Facebook, he said, has created a content oversight board “with a diverse range of ideological views,” and an appeals process for content that is removed.

“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 wrote. “That’s why it is so important that we work to make sure this process is free of bias, intended or not.”

Facebook also announced it will adjust its advertising policy to allow the display of medical tubes connected to people. The change will make it easier to approve pro-life ads focused on the survival stories of babies.

The social media platform’s efforts have not, however, appeased its harshest critics.

“Merely asking somebody to listen to conservatives’ concerns isn’t an ‘audit,’ it’s a smokescreen disguised as a solution,” said Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. “Facebook should conduct an actual audit by giving a trusted third party access to its algorithm, its key documents, and its content moderation protocols. Then Facebook should release the results to the public.”

Some conservatives, including Hawley, have voiced support for government oversight of tech companies to quell ideological disenfranchisement. Others caution that tech companies are private entities with the First Amendment freedom to curate their content the way they want.

Meanwhile, Facebook is seeking to earn back eroded trust from consumers. It announced another policy, unconnected with Kyl’s report, that will allow users to have more control over their own data. The tool will allow users to see which apps and websites are tracking their activity on Facebook and have the option to sever those ties. Facebook hasn’t activated the tool in the United States but has released it in Ireland, South Korea, and Spain.

Clegg noted that Kyl’s team is continuing their work and will release a more in-depth report at a later date.

Associated Press/Photo by Ted S. Warren Associated Press/Photo by Ted S. Warren Washington Gov. Jay Inslee

2020 update

  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday he is withdrawing from the crowded field of Democrats seeking the party’s 2020 presidential nomination. Inslee, who focused his campaign on climate change, struggled in the polls and likely would fall short of the benchmarks set for participation in the September debates on ABC. Candidates must have at least 2 percent support in four polls of states with early primaries or caucuses, as well as receive donations from at least 130,000 donors to qualify. So far, 10 candidates have met those qualifications. Inslee is expected to announce a bid for a third term as governor.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts apologized Monday to a group of Native Americans for her past claims of Native American heritage. “Like anyone who’s been honest with themselves, I know that I have made mistakes,” she told a candidate’s forum hosted by Native American tribes in Iowa. “I am sorry for harm I have caused. I have listened, and I have learned a lot. And I am grateful for the many conversations that we’ve had together.” President Donald Trump had mocked Warren over her claims of Native American ancestry. Many tribal leaders criticized her effort to put the matter to rest with a DNA test last year.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., turned his attention to boosting union participation in the United States, unveiling a plan Wednesday he claimed would double membership in four years and change the way unions operate in the country. Labor unions have been a key constituency of the Democratic Party in recent decades, and Sanders aims to strengthen that support by making it easier for workers to form unions, axing state right-to-work laws, and changing the way unions conduct collective bargaining.
  • A week after ending his bid for the White House, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Thursday he would run for a U.S. Senate seat in his state. Though he lagged far behind in the race for the Democratic Party nomination for president, he quickly became the front-runner in the field of challengers to incumbent Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in 2020. —Anne K. Walters
Associated Press/Photo by Alex Brandon Associated Press/Photo by Alex Brandon President Donald Trump

Foreign aid funding

President Donald Trump said he might not cut foreign aid after all in the coming weeks amid concerns from Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

The president told reporters at the White House on Tuesday his administration was looking at ways to save $4 billion in proposed cuts to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. “And we’re talking to Republicans and Democrats about it,” Trump said. “And certain things we can save and certain things—it probably could be, you know, a pennywise.”

The Office of Management and Budget had indicated earlier this month it was reviewing spending on international organizations such as the United Nations peacekeeping, counternarcotics, and other programs.

The president has long expressed disdain for spending taxpayer dollars on foreign aid, but Congress has stymied his efforts to make cuts to programs seen as crucial to U.S. humanitarian and diplomatic efforts abroad. He backed down on a similar plan last year after an outcry from Congress.

Lawmakers have warned that attempting to bypass Congress to cut foreign aid would sour future budget talks.

“Not only do these cuts have the potential to undermine significant national security and anti-terrorism efforts of our diplomats and international partners overseas, but we fear such a rescission package could complicate the ability of the administration and Congress to work constructively on future appropriations deals,” Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Hal Rogers, who serve as the top Republicans on committees overseeing funds for the State Department, warned in a letter last week. —A.K.W.

Harvest Prude

Harvest is a reporter for WORLD based in Washington, D.C.

Read more from this writer