Amid increasing public discussion about the role of free speech on social media platforms and to what extent these social platforms constitute the public square of the modern era, Georgetown University hosted an event about the intersection of social media and the First Amendment.
Speaking at the panel were New York Times columnist Kara Swisher and New York Times editorial board member Sarah Jeong. The panel also included Katie Fallow, Senior Staff Attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute, Jeff Kosseff, a Cybersecurity Law Professor and reporter, and Lori Moylan – a representative from Facebook.
The idea of bias against conservatives was one of the main topics discussed.
The Director of Georgetown University’s Free Speech Project, Sanford J. Ungar, who was moderating the panel, asked Swisher and Jeong how Republicans such as Senator Ted Cruz have “gained a lot of headway complaining that the internet is biased against Republicans” and whether that lays the groundwork for the return of a Fairness Doctrine – a doctrine that requires broadcast license holders to present controversial issues in a way that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) deemed to be honest, equitable, and balanced.
Both Jeong and Swisher said that there was “no proof” and “no evidence” of social media bias against Republicans.
2019 has been filled with reports which have consistently exposed what appears to be a strong bias against conservative content on big tech platforms, including reports from Google’s own employees and ex-employees. These reports feature Google employees suggesting that only big tech can prevent the next “Trump situation” and saying that popular conservative commentators are “Nazis using the dogwhistles.” Leaked documents and whistleblowers from these reports have suggested that Google is using a biased artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm to suppress conservative content and popular conservative commentators. Some of these reports have also been cited by Senator Ted Cruz and Congressman Dan Crenshaw during hearings.
Swisher responded by saying: “Let me put it as simply as Ted Cruz might. Ted Cruz is an idiot. On this topic, it’s just not true. There is no proof whatsoever that this is happening.”
Swisher then quickly explained away the investigative reports that Cruz has cited in hearings by appearing to ignore them and saying, “I would like him to show some actual proof. His proof is all…it’s not proof, it’s not proof in any way.” Swisher then made the argument that because President Trump is a Twitter “troll”, it proves there’s no anti-conservative bias – “If it was proof, why is Donald Trump the most important Twitter troll in history?”
No prominent conservative appeared on the panel to provide any counterpoints to any of these arguments.
Jeong backed up Swisher by suggesting that a 2016 Gizmodo story about former Facebook workers routinely suppressing conservative news (a report that many cite as the first major look at anti-conservative bias on social platforms) was not valid. Jeong dismissed the left-leaning bias covered in the article as simply “institutional newspapers being ranked higher” than “not very good blogs.”
Jeong then dismissed the merits of the article suggesting that it was “clickbait” only written to be picked up by conservative news aggregation website, The Drudge Report. Jeong added: “Like Kara says, there’s no evidence, it’s nonsensical.”
Later in the discussion, Jeong took her claims one step further and suggested that Facebook is actually biased towards conservatives, suggesting that “there is a pro-conservative bias built into Facebook.”
Jeong’s evidence of this is that President Trump uses the platform and is popular on it. “Everything the President says is newsworthy and therefore he’s never going to get banned from any of these platforms, his postings are never going to get deleted, he’s never going to be censored. No matter what he says is newsworthy, no matter what he says is political and must be protected. He can cross every line and in fact, he has. There’s just a pro-conservative bent just baked in.”
Facebook representative Lori Moylan weighed in and insisted that, at Facebook, they “do take the bias accusations seriously” and that Facebook is “dedicated to free expression and getting ideas out into the world.”
Moylan also claimed that there is no anti-conservative bias because, on Facebook, “pro-life content performed exceptionally well.”
The comments from Moylan come days after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted there “clearly was bias” in Facebook’s “fact-check” of one of the biggest pro-life advocacy groups Live Action.
CSPAN have coverage of the event here.