Four Republican senators sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg this morning, criticizing the social-media platform’s recent “fact check” of pro-life organization Live Action. In a copy of the letter obtained exclusively by National Review, Senators Josh Hawley (Mo.), Ted Cruz (Texas), Kevin Cramer (N.D.), and Mike Braun (Ind.) condemn what they call Facebook’s “pattern of censorship” and call on the group to submit to an external audit.
At the end of last month, Facebook notified Live Action that fact-checkers had given a “false” rating to two videos shared by the group’s president Lila Rose. One featured Rose herself and the other featured Dr. Kendra Kolb, a board-certified neonatologist; both videos included the claim that abortion is not medically necessary. After bestowing a “false” rating on the videos, Facebook prevented Rose and Live Action from promoting or advertising content and alerted users who had shared the two videos that they had spread “false news.”
But as the senators’ letter points out, Facebook’s “fact check” was conducted by two abortion providers, both of whom also have formal ties to abortion-rights activist groups: Daniel Grossman, who is on the board of NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation, and Robyn Shickler, a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health.
“No reasonable person would describe Grossman or Shickler as neutral or objective when it comes to the issue of abortion,” the letter states, “yet Facebook relied on their rating to suppress and censor a pro-life organization with more than 3 million followers.” The letter calls this a violation of “Facebook’s supposed commitment to non-partisanship.”
The senators note that this incident is just one example of significant “bias against those with conservative viewpoints, especially on the issue of abortion,” not only at Facebook but also at Twitter, Google, and Pinterest. “You have repeatedly insisted that these numerous instances of discrimination, censorship, and suppression of speech are merely glitches, not evidence of systemic bias,” they add.
The letter concludes by calling on Facebook to issue a correction, remove restrictions on Rose and Live Action, and submit to an external audit, which they say must be “real and meaningful.” This demand is reminiscent of Hawley’s April letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, in which he demanded a third-party audit of the platform after an account for the pro-life film Unplanned was suspended. A spokesperson for Twitter later told National Review that the suspension had been due to mistakenly linking the account for Unplanned to another account that had violated the rules.
Since joining the Senate this January, Hawley in particular has carved out space for himself as a vocal critic of tech companies, even going so far as to propose a bill that would amend Section 230 to remove larger companies’ immunity from liability unless their policies for regulating content are deemed politically neutral. He has also proposed legislation attempting to curb social-media addiction by banning features like infinite scroll and autoplay.
Update 9/11/19 7:00 p.m.: The International Fact-Checking Network, the unit of the Poynter Institute responsible for providing fact-checking assistance to Facebook, has issued a statement responding to the GOP senators’ letter and listing the steps the group is taking to investigate the incident.
A spokesperson for Facebook has provided National Review with a statement in response to the letter from senators to Zuckerberg and the statement from the IFCN:
Posts by Live Action and Lila Rose were fact-checked by a third party, independently certified by the International Fact Checking Network. We have been in touch with the IFCN which has opened an investigation to determine whether the fact checkers who rated this content did so by following procedures designed to ensure impartiality. While the IFCN investigates, we are removing the relevant fact checks and have communicated this to the members of the US Senate who brought this specific concern to our attention.
Read the full letter here: GOP Senators’ Facebook Letter