Some people are very upset that a Facebook staffer may have influenced the “trending topics” on the site to suppress conservative-leaning news stories.
The best perspective on this story that I’ve seen was actually from Glenn Beck. The arch-conservative attended a special “mea culpa” meeting with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Beck pointed out on Medium yesterday that the this whole uproar started because “ONE person, making ONE accusation, against ONE of their products.” He also said he saw no real evidence of the bias. So he wasn’t shocked at Facebook, but at the other right-leaning representatives in the room who were demanding a very un-conservative form of “affirmative action for conservatives.”
But frankly, even if there were bias, I wouldn’t care. What worries me about this story is the assumption by some in the media and, more shockingly, national politicians like Senator John Thune, that Facebook should answer their questions.
No, Facebook really should not.
So if the company wants to meet with conservatives to protect its appeal to all kinds of customers, fine. But in no way should the government or media have any say over its content choices. A Senator demanding some accounting of a person’s or company’s views is getting into McCarthy territory.
If Facebook is so big that is causes irreparable harm to society by having a strong perspective on the world (which, again, there’s no evidence that it did), then the real problem is its size. I suppose there would be a compelling state interest in breaking it up. But we live in a very splintered media environment. I doubt Facebook is the only news source for very many people.
But still, as reasonable as Beck’s view on the meeting was — and yes, I never thought I’d say Glenn Beck and “reasonable” in the same sentence — I still don’t know why anyone from the company met with him. It’s kind of an obvious question, but do you think Beck, or Fox’s leadership, will meet with liberal thinkers about their content choices? Exactly.
Again, even if it were biased, I don’t even think there’s much of a corporate social responsibility argument in favor of Facebook having to change. For me, it’s simple: A liberal doesn’t have to watch Fox, and a conservative doesn’t have to watch any outlet it finds too left-leaning. So change the channel if you’re annoyed.
In a Twitter exchange about all of this, someone suggested to me that switching away from Facebook isn’t so easy — it’s like your power utility, he said. Maybe, but I don’t think the metaphor is perfect. If Facebook secretly screened out some of your friend requests, maybe that would be cause for concern about fraud or something illegal.
But just shifting what news topics come up on the page? That’s not a government issue — it’s first amendment.