Politics & Policy

Facebook’s Unenviable Position

(Dado Ruvic/Reuters)
The Left’s efforts to bully the social-media giant have nothing to do with protecting democracy, and everything to do with political expediency.

Hillary Clinton is angry. “We can have democracy—or we can have social networks that allow the spread of weaponized disinformation about our elections,” she tweeted this week, while linking to a pressure campaign meant to “demand social media platforms protect democracy.” Bloomberg Businessweek, in a long and largely misleading piece on Facebook published yesterday, attempted to bully CEO Mark Zuckerberg into more aggressively disadvantaging Donald Trump and his supporters. Zuckerberg got an outsized portion of the blame for Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016, and he’s being warned that he’s in the firing line again.

It’s not really Facebook’s algorithms that the forces behind such efforts detest, nor is it misinformation, nor the “manipulation” undertaken by shadowy groups such as the now-infamous Cambridge Analytica. Remember, it was just a decade ago that liberals believed social networks would, almost by themselves, create progressive revolutions across the globe. It was just eight years ago that the Obama campaign’s social-media operation — far larger than anything Cambridge Analytica ever managed — was hailed as the work of digital masterminds who boldly “blew through an alarm that [Facebook] engineers hadn’t planned for or knew about.”

No, what bothers the Left about Facebook is that it is the most powerful media company in the world and it is a place conservative people can talk, and share ideas, with relatively less manipulation and guidance from progressive editors and censors.

In Bloomberg’s report, we’re told about liberal and progressive Facebook employees crying. And it is implied that since 2016, Facebook has openly and brazenly supported the Right:

Facebook’s internal data showed that conservative voices are consistently the most popular on the site. (On a recent Monday morning, the top 10 Facebook posts, by interactions—such as likes, shares, and comments—included eight from conservative pundits and news outlets, one from Ivanka Trump, and one from NPR.)

This should actually be expected. The country is more or less evenly divided between the two parties. The vast majority of media outlets tilt toward the center-left or left, meaning that any story that excited left-leaning Facebook users will be told by many different outlets. Relatively fewer outlets serve conservatives news, and few of those have a ton of social-media reach. Facebook’s current user demographics skew older than almost all social networks. With a large demand meeting a small supply, outlets such as Fox News and The Daily Wire are naturally going to dominate Facebook in shares and interactions.

What’s more, Facebook is correct to be cautious about demands from political parties for more direct intervention in its business. If the editing got too heavy-handed, Republican Senators such as Josh Hawley would have their case for repealing the Section 230 protections, ones premised on the idea that Facebook is a platform and not a publisher. The urge to censor is at the heart of Clinton’s demands. It was she who threatened to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizen’s United decision, which held that under the First Amendment, a film criticizing Hillary Clinton could be aired before an election.

But for now, Facebook remains in an unwinnable position. Cultural progressives control the universities, have captured most corporate boards, and run a kind of ongoing informal ideological union in the media. Facebook’s unprecedented success has put many of the traditional businesses that employ that union’s members into a precarious position, fueling their dependence on and resentment of Zuckerberg’s platform. So now they are doing everything they can to put pressure on Facebook itself. They aren’t interested in what conservatives are saying to each other; they just think it’s disgusting to profit from such an enterprise, and probably dangerous.

Social media provides a somewhat exaggerated reflection of what’s happening in the real world. When progressives are winning victories, they’ll hold Facebook, Twitter, and the like in high esteem. When they are in a dour mood, they’ll do the opposite. In either case, “protecting democracy” will have nothing to do with it.

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