‘We badly mishandled our communications with [Diamond and Silk]…’
(Kaylee McGhee, Liberty Headlines) Facebook admitted it “badly mishandled” communications with conservative commentators, like Diamond and Silk, during a congressional hearing on Tuesday.
Members of Congress drilled representatives of major social media platforms about the role social media plays in increasing political polarization during the hearing.
Monika Bickert, Facebook’s head of Global Policy Management, testified during the hearing and admitted Facebook has not helped this problem.
Referencing the conservative duo Diamond and Silk, who were banned from the platform last year, Bickert said Facebook has taken steps to improve its relationship with conservative voices.
“We badly mishandled our communications with [Diamond and Silk],” she said. “And since then, we’ve worked hard to improve our relationship. We appreciate the perspective they add to our platform.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said Facebook, Twitter, and Google have all made noticeable changes to improve transparency since the incident, but bias still remains a problem, he said.
“We’ve seen numerous efforts by these companies to improve transparency. Conversely, we’ve also seen numerous stories in the news of content that’s still being unfairly restricted,” Goodlatte said in his opening statement.
“Just before July Fourth, for example, Facebook automatically blocked a post from a Texas newspaper that it claimed contained hate speech,” he added. “Facebook then asked the paper to ‘review the contents of its page and remove anything that does not comply with Facebook’s policies.’ The text at issue was the Declaration of Independence.”
Bickert recognized the mistake and said Facebook’s policy doesn’t always get it right.
“Assessing whether a specific piece of content belongs on Facebook often requires making a nuanced determination, and while we won’t get it right every time, we learn from our mistakes and are always working to improve. Conversations like the one we’re having here today are part of that process,” she said.
Nick Pickles, a senior strategist for Twitter, denied any bias against conservatives.
“Some critics have described the sum of all of this work as a banning of conservative voices. Let me make clear to the Committee today that these claims are unfounded and false,” Pickles said during his testimony. “In fact, we have deliberately taken this approach as a robust defense against bias, as it requires us to define and act upon bad conduct, not a specific type of speech.
“Our purpose is to serve the conversation, not to make value judgments on personal beliefs.”
Juniper Downs, Global Head of Public Policy and Government Relations for Google, said that although freedom of expression is important to Google, Congress must understand that “not all speech is protected.”
She said, however, that its policy against harmful speech is applied in a “politically neutral” way.
“Giving preference to content of one political ideology over another would fundamentally conflict with our goal of providing services that work for everyone,” Downs said.
Downs said Google’s “robust process for appeal” solves problems quickly, but admitted Google doesn’t “always get it right.”
“We hear these concerns from creators of all stripes — from gamers, to various underrepresented communities, to both liberals and conservatives,” Downs said. “As I mentioned at the start, we build our products for all of our users from all political stripes around the globe. The long-term success of our business is directly related to our ability to earn and maintain the trust of our users. We will continue to pursue that trust by encouraging and acting on feedback about ways we can improve.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said alleged bias against conservatives is an “entirely imaginary narrative,” and that the hearing should focus on the “real threats that are facing the United States of America.”
“Clearly, the majority would like to focus on made-up threats — fabricated, phony, and inflated threats,” Raskin said.
Raskin said the committee should focus on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and how foreign powers used these social media platforms to do so.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, agreed and asked the witnesses if their platforms had found indications that foreign agencies were using their sites to promote propaganda.
“You sure seemed anxious to answer the Democrats’ questions about Russia influence and you don’t really know of all the groups that inappropriately used your platform,” Gohmert said. “You don’t know which were Russian and which were other foreign entities?”
None of the witnesses were able to answer Gohmert’s question.
Alleged Russian interference played a large role in the congressional hearing due to mounting tensions following President Donald Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday.
When asked if Russia interfered in the 2016 election, Putin flatly denied his country’s involvement.
“The Russian state has never interfered and is not going to interfere into internal American affairs, including election process,” Putin said.
Despite the collective conclusion from U.S. intelligence proving otherwise, Trump supported Putin’s claim.
“They said they think it’s Russia,” Trump said, referring to the intelligence community’s reports. “I have President Putin — he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this — I don’t see any reason why it would be…I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”