Facebook detailed the findings of a report (embedded below) it commissioned from former Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and his team at law firm Covington & Burling on potential anti-conservative bias at the social network.
Vice president of global affairs and communications Nick Clegg said in a Newsroom post that Kyl and his team met with over 130 conservative politicians and organizations, adding that the report released Tuesday was just the first stage, and more is coming from Kyl and his team in a few months’ time.
The only real policy change to emerge from the report’s findings was an adjustment to Facebook’s policy on sensational advertising, which involves depicting medical tubes connected to a person’s body.
The report found that the social network’s policy caused the rejection of pro-life ads detailing survival stories of infants who were born prior to reaching full term.
Kyl and his team wrote, “Facebook has adjusted its enforcement of this policy to focus on prohibiting ads only when the ad shows someone in visible pain or distress or where blood and bruising is visible. This change expands the scope of advocacy available for groups seeking to use previously prohibited images. Facebook told us that it remains committed to reviewing its policies and updating them based on feedback received from external groups and advertisers.”
The report divided concerns expressed by the conservative politicians and organizations who were consulted into six categories.
Content distribution and algorithms
Respondents expressed fears that the massive change to Facebook’s News Feed algorithm in January 2018, which de-emphasized content from brands, disproportionately reduced the reach of conservative news outlets.
They also took issue with the social network’s efforts to combat clickbait and spam, calling them “too opaque.”
Finally, they felt that third-party fact-checkers enlisted by the social network to help thwart fake news were too left-leaning, citing Snopes, PolitiFact, FactCheck.org and The Associated Press as examples, but admitting that conservative publishers such as The Daily Caller and The Weekly Standard (now defunct) were also included in the process.
Concerns were expressed over Facebook’s community standards involving hate speech—including whether the social network should have a hate speech policy in the first place labeling, and unfair labeling of certain content as hate speech.
Kyl and his team wrote, “Facebook prohibits use of the platform by ‘terrorist groups and hate organizations,’ and removes content that praises them, their actions or their members. We note both the importance of distinguishing between the ‘hate speech’ and ‘hate organization’ designations, and the confusion the similarity of the two labels can cause. Interviewees frequently expressed concern over Facebook’s perceived reliance on the Southern Poverty Law Center and other left-leaning organizations to identify hate groups. Many conservatives view the SPLC as an extreme organization intent on defaming conservatives.”
Respondents also believe parts of Facebook’s community standards disproportionately affect conservative content, particularly pro-life, socially conservative and religious content.
Some respondents provided specific examples of instances where they believe Facebook unfairly removed or downgraded content or pages because they were conservative.
Facebook’s appeal process for removed content was also a source of frustration, and Kyl and his team wrote, “In particular, interviewees opined that Facebook’s current process lacks transparency with respect to how ultimate decisions are made, and that it is difficult to be heard without being a large, influential organization with contacts inside Facebook.”
Many respondents took issue with the political ads policies the social network began implementing in May 2018, citing the inconsistency of registering as a political organization with IRS definitions and election law, as well as the “detailed, sensitive information” Facebook requires in order to verify advertisers’ identities.