Facebook employees tried to suppress conservative news outlets, report shows – New York Post
Facebook’s bias is showing — again.
The tech giant’s employees have consistently pushed to suppress or de-platform right-wing outlets such as Breitbart, despite objections from managers trying to avoid political blowback, a scathing report by the Wall Street Journal revealed.
The internal debates — captured in message-board conversations reviewed by the publication — fuel new concerns that the platform is treating news outlets differently based on political slant.
Of special focus in the report was Breitbart, which employees have targeted to remove from the News Tab function, especially amid protests following George Floyd’s death by Minneapolis police last year.
After a staffer asked about removing Breitbart, a senior researcher responded, “I can also tell you that we saw drops in trust in CNN 2 years ago: would we take the same approach for them too?” he wrote.
By 2020, Facebook had begun keeping track of “strikes” for content deemed false by third-party fact-checkers. Repeat offenders could be suspended from posting. Escalations came more frequently against conservative outlets, according to the report.
The report is the latest in a series of bombshell revelations from whistleblowers about the social media colossus’ craving for profits over the needs of its users.
Employees were told in recent days to brace for more disclosures.
Nick Clegg, the vice president of global affairs for Facebook, told workers that “we need to steel ourselves for more bad headlines in the coming days, I’m afraid,” in a Saturday memo obtained by Axios.
The new scoops were expected to come Monday from a number of news outlets that were given leaked material by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen but an embargo on the information collapsed Friday and more devastating reporting on the company’s internal workings could be released any time.
The story that broke the embargo on Friday involved a new whistleblower who told the Securities and Exchange Commission that Facebook routinely dismissed concerns about hate speech and the spread of misinformation over fears it would hinder the company’s growth.
The whistleblower, who testified under oath and whose name has not been released, told the SEC in 2017 that Facebook execs discouraged attempts to fight misinformation and hate speech during the Trump administration because it would hold back the company’s growth — and because they were afraid of the consequences from the president and his allies.
The whistleblower, like Haugen, a member of the social network’s “integrity team,” said Tucker Bounds, a Facebook communications official, dismissed hate speech as a “flash in the pan” and said even though “some legislators will get pissy,” the company is “printing money in the basement.”
A person who worked at Facebook at the time told The Post that the comments from Bounds sound accurate.
“That’s how Tucker talks,” the former employee said. “The Tucker quote, as much as I disagree with it, really does reflect the attitude during 2017.”
Clegg in his memo encouraged employees to stay positive amid the news developments.
“But, above all else, we should keep our heads held high and do the work we came here to do,” he said in the memo, adding that Facebook made significant investments in encouraging the vote and boosting vaccination rates.
“The truth is we’ve invested $13 billion and have over 40,000 people to do one job: keep people safe on Facebook,” he said, according to the Axios report.
The flood of exposés that blew the lid off Facebook’s inner workings began with a series of reports dubbed the “Facebook Files” in the Wall Street Journal based on data supplied by Haugen in early September.
On Oct. 3, Haugen revealed her identity in an interview on CBS News’ “60 Minutes.”
“The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook,” Haugen said on the news program.
“Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money,” said Haugen, 37.
She left the tech giant in May after her unit that sought to address misinformation on the platform was dismantled, and she copied thousands of pages of internal documents to have as evidence to back up her claims.
Several days after the interview on “60 Minutes,” Haugen told a Senate panel Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has faced no accountability over his actions and that lawmakers should make sure he does.
“There are no similarly powerful companies that are as unilaterally controlled [as Facebook],” she told the senators. “The buck stops with Mark. There is no one currently holding Mark accountable but himself.”
“As long as Facebook is operating in the dark, it is accountable to no one and it will continue to make choices that go against the common good,” she said.
Other material linked by Haugen to media outlets showed that Facebook downplayed or ignored Instagram’s caustic effects on teenagers’ mental health despite being aware of the damage through internal research.
Haugen also said Facebook exempted popular users from some content moderation rules and failed to crack down on drug cartels and human traffickers.
“The documents I have provided to Congress prove that Facebook has repeatedly misled the public,” said Haugen in testimony to the Senate Commerce Committee’s consumer protection subcommittee. “I came forward at great personal risk because I believe we still have time to act.”