Report: Facebook Employees Tried to Suppress Conservative News Outlets
Hannah Nightingale | the Post Millennial
The Facebook employee’s message complaining about Breitbart included screenshots of headlines, such as “Minneapolis Mayhem: Riots in Masks,” “Massive Looting, Buildings in Flames, Bonfires!” and “BLM Protesters Pummel Police Cars on 101.”
Facebook’s internal chat boards have been revealed to be a battleground between employees and their higher-ups on how to restrain right-wing outlets on their platform, where bosses usually keep in check lower-level employees quarrelling over such conservative sites being included on the platform.
As part of the Wall Street Journal’s ongoing Facebook Files, internal documents reviewed by the outlet have revealed how politics usually find their way into the decision-making process at the social media giant.
“The documents viewed by the Journal, which don’t capture all of the employee messaging, didn’t mention equivalent debates over left-wing publications,” wrote the Wall Street Journal. “Other documents also reveal that Facebook’s management team has been so intently focused on avoiding charges of bias that it regularly places political considerations at the center of its decision making.”
Some employees at Facebook argued that their higher-ups have allowed a way for right-wing publishers on the platform to circumnavigate some of the community rules, in an effort to avoid public relations blowbacks.
“We’re scared of political backlash if we enforce our policies without exemptions,” wrote one employee in an internal communication.
The social media company has placed a specific stress on Breitbart, with one employee writing on the company’s “racial-justice” chat board, “Get Breitbart out of News Tab,” not long after the death of George Floyd last May.
The Wall Street Journal explained that News Tab is a feature that aggregates and promotes articles from various publishers, chosen by Facebook. The employee’s message included screenshots of headlines on Breitbart‘s website, such as “Minneapolis Mayhem: Riots in Masks,” “Massive Looting, Buildings in Flames, Bonfires!” and “BLM Protesters Pummel Police Cars on 101.”
The employee said they were “emblematic of a concerted effort at Breitbart and similarly hyperpartisan sources (none of which belong in News Tab) to paint Black Americans and Black-led movements in a very negative way,” according to written conversations on Facebook’s office communication system reviewed by the Wall Street Journal. “Many other employees chimed in to agree,” the report reads.
One Facebook employee wrote in their farewell memo in 2020 that Breitbart was undermining the company’s efforts to fight hate speech.
“We make special exceptions to our written policies for them, and we even explicitly endorse them by including them as trusted partners in our core products,” the staffer said of Breitbart.
“We make changes to reduce problematic or low-quality content to improve people’s experiences on the platform, not because of a page’s political point of view,” said Facebook spokesman Andy Stone. “When it comes to changes that will impact public pages like publishers, of course we analyze the effect of the proposed change before we make it.”
In documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal, many employees discussed on these internal chat boards whether Facebook was enforcing its rules evenly across the political spectrum.
“They said the company was allowing conservative sites to skirt the company’s fact-checking rules, publish untrustworthy and offensive content and harm the tech giant’s relationship with advertisers, according to records from internal Facebook message boards,” wrote the Wall Street Journal.\
When talking about removing Breitbart from the News Tab back in 2020, a senior researcher wrote in the chat that it would be a problem for Facebook to remove the outlet for the way it framed news events like the George Floyd protests because “news framing is not a standard by which we approach journalistic integrity.”
The researcher noted that if the outlet removed publishers whose trust and quality scores were going down, Breitbart may fall under those thresholds, but other outlets like CNN may get thrown out as well.
“I can also tell you that we saw drops in trust in CNN 2 years ago: would we take the same approach for them too?” the senior researcher wrote.