Following the publication of leaked internal messages between Facebook employees in The Wall Street Journal, Fox’s Tucker Carlson hosted Breitbart Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow for a friendly interview that misrepresented both the reporting as well as the manner in which Facebook treats conservative outlets on its platform.
(There’s no evidence of censorship; study after study after study after study — I could go on — has shown that right-wing outlets thrive on Facebook; there is also an exceedingly long track record of Facebook giving preferential treatment to right-wing actors.)
During the interview, Marlow complained that “woke SJWs” at Facebook were pressuring senior management to cut down traffic to Breitbart and other conservative outlets. Marlow claimed that this was a “smoking gun” that proved Facebook was out to censor conservative voices.
However, the Journal was explicit in stating that reporters found no evidence that conversations among employees at Facebook actually resulted in executives removing or deemphasizing Breitbart’s content. From the Journal:
Many Republicans, from Mr. Trump down, say Facebook discriminates against conservatives. The documents reviewed by the Journal didn’t render a verdict on whether bias influences its decisions overall. They do show that employees and their bosses have hotly debated whether and how to restrain right-wing publishers, with more-senior employees often providing a check on agitation from the rank and file. The documents viewed by the Journal, which don’t capture all of the employee messaging, didn’t mention equivalent debates over left-wing publications.
Carlson did not disclose that he himself was discussed in the leaked messages, wherein employees “called Mr. Carlson a ‘white nationalist’ and ‘partisan hack’ who ‘looks as though he’s a Golden Retriever who has been consistently cheated out of a cache of treats.’”
Furthermore, as my colleague Eric Kleefeld noted previously, the tools that Facebook did use (briefly in one case) to address misinformation were built around ideologically nonaligned criteria, and in fact affected MSNBC more than Breitbart:
In a similar distortion of the Journal’s reporting, Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo cited the Journal’s reporting to tell her viewers that Facebook had “introduced two tools after the 2016 election that disproportionately harmed conservative outlets. They cut traffic to Breitbart by 20%, the Washington Times by 18%, Western Journal by 16%, and the Epoch Times by 11%.”
In this case, the two Facebook tools Bartiromo mentioned had been based on ideologically nonaligned criteria: One initiative, “Sparing Sharing,” reduced the reach of users who posted too frequently; the other, “Informed Engagement,” was described by the Journal as having “reduced the reach of posts that people were more likely to share if they hadn’t read them.” (The company eventually discontinued the Informed Engagement measure, but it kept Sparing Sharing.)
The Journal’s reporting said that Facebook’s internal study found that the two measures had disproportionately brought down the traffic of far-right publishers, “even though that wasn’t its intent, according to the documents.” Furthermore, the study found that cable news channel MSNBC had been impacted even more by the changes than Breitbart, a key fact Bartiromo ignored to make it appear as if the measures had targeted right-wing outlets.
Histrionics by Carlson and Marlow aside, the documents published by the Journal show that Facebook executives bent over backward to avoid applying content standards to Breitbart. Fox has used the Journal’s reporting on the Facebook Papers only to argue that conservatives are being discriminated against by Facebook, even though conservative media is a dominant force on the platform.