Facebook and the Rise of Conservative Grievance Politics

 
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Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook.

When conservatives criticized Facebook for spiking right-leaning content, CEO Mark Zuckerberg did something odd for a liberal tech titan: he listened. The kajillionaire invited several leading conservative voices to fly out to the left coast and share their concerns in person. Despite Zuckerberg’s sickening oversight of not inviting yours truly, I was impressed that he was savvy enough to call a summit.

Sure, his motivation was probably more PR and business development than the robust exchange of ideas, but you don’t see the New York Times or NBC News reacting this way to a couple days of snarky blog posts about media bias. Do I think Facebook will shed its liberal worldview and use Trending Topics to promote “Trump Correctly Accuses Bill Clinton of Rape” above “Lena Dunham Inspires Millions by Eating Lasagna Naked?” Of course not. Facebook is a progressive company staffed by progressive professionals who swim in a progressive ecosystem. But by starting a dialogue with conservatives, he might tip off his staff that half of the company’s users don’t enthusiastically support Hillary or Bernie.

Glenn Beck (who, unlike yours truly, was actually invited to the confab) came away disappointed. Not with Facebook management, but by the behavior of his conservative confreres.

I sat through a meeting that, to me, felt like I was attending a Rainbow Coalition meeting, that people (not me) had come with a list of demands.

I looked around the room, I heard the complaints, I listened to the perspectives, and not a single person in the room shared evidence of any wrongdoing. Maybe they had some, but it wasn’t shared. They discussed how Facebook’s organic reach and changes in algorithms has impacted their business. While at the same time admitting that Huffington Post has been struggling with the same issues. I heard people discuss community standards, pages being shut down, posts being removed — and I do believe that happens and it’s something Facebook could do better, and I hope they will — but we were not there because of that. We were there because of this ONE accusation on Trending Topics.

I sat there looking around and heard things like:

  1. Facebook has a very liberal workforce. Has Facebook considered diversity in their hiring practice? The country is 2% Mormon. Maybe Facebook’s company should better reflect that reality.
  2. Maybe Facebook should consider a six-month training program to help their biased and liberal workforce understand and respect conservative opinions and values.
  3. We need to see strong and specific steps to right this wrong.

It was like affirmative action for conservatives. When did conservatives start demanding quotas AND diversity training AND less people from Ivy League Colleges?

Erick Erickson (who, unlike yours truly, was actually invited to the confab, but, like yours truly, did not attend said confab) had feelings similar to those of Beck:

I know most of those who went to the meeting. I know what was said at the meeting. I also know those who were invited and refused to go. One conservative organization invited to the meeting refused to go because, among other reasons, Facebook had refused to give money for an event held by that group.

Still other conservatives who did go to the meeting insisted Facebook should hire conservatives. They insisted Facebook should steer money toward conservative causes and candidates and join conservative fights. All those things may sound well and good, but when did the conservative movement decide to behave like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton? Both those men are portrayed by the right as shakedown artists and here come a group of conservatives shaking down Facebook.

It seems a growing number of conservatives decided they must embrace the same tactics of the left and turn into professional grievance mongers and shake down artists. Just as Republicans fail to win elections by being Democrat-lite, conservatives are never going to beat liberals at their own game.

Ben Domenech of The Federalist did not like these critiques at all. He lit in to both conservative commentators with an intensity usually reserved for Vladimir Putin or the New England Patriots:

These are the complaints of useful idiots. They are stupid and both men should be ashamed at their dull-witted retromingency in making them. Facebook is not being shaken down in any capacity. It is being criticized not as a corporation, but in its chosen role as a media entity. Facebook curates the news; it is a news source for the vast majority of Americans. It put its trending algorithm forward as a source of news, with the false impression given that it accurately represented the trending topics of the Facebook community. Instead, it warped these results according to their ideological framework and their biases to falsely represent the top stories of the day. This is a serious accusation and one Facebook has admitted to as a problem. Yet Beck and Erickson are arguing against Mark Zuckerberg when they say that it doesn’t matter.

Glenn Beck walked into a room with them and loudly insisted he was uninterested in influencing their hiring decisions which leave out conservatives, because he wanted to out-conservative everyone in the room.

If you agree with Beck and Erickson, you must also throw out the entire realm of media bias reporting that has been a mark of the right for decades as nothing….

If they really believe this and aren’t just posturing, then Beck and Erickson can go to their rooms to play their hit song “Alone in My Principles” and leave the media criticism fray to those of us who believe it is important and valuable, and have the spine to do it.

After looking up the word “retromingency,” I want to know where our readers stand. Are too many conservatives buying into the odious grievance politics of the left or should we redouble our complaints about bias to force our way into the media conversation?

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  1. Viruscop Member
    Viruscop
    @Viruscop

    This is longer than my post, but read more Ricochet.

    • #1
  2. Austin Murrey Inactive
    Austin Murrey
    @AustinMurrey

    I famously don’t use Facebook, which I’ve always regarded as a tool to help people you’d rather not talk to be way too informed about your life, so I don’t really care who they hire and how they curate news as long as they’re honest about it.

    Reporting isn’t a noble profession, it’s a job. Gussying it up with words like journalism doesn’t change that.

    • #2
  3. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    I, too, am fine with Facebook doing whatever they want. Honesty would be nice.

    • #3
  4. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Jon,

    The single most important thing to remember about Facebook is that Facebook does not create content. Facebooks users create the content. The point of using Facebook is to create some content whether you are a Car Company, a plumber, a working mother, or a high school student.

    This is why Zuckerberg is so concerned. People don’t like to be censored period. His whole business model involves users who trust Facebook. That is why trending on Facebook is of interest. This isn’t a normal discussion of bias in the news. Facebook users can actually help report the news by re-posting news stories on their pages. Or writing comments on other pages.

    The key word is interactive. That isn’t just information age hype anymore. With 1.6 billion users, Facebook is an interactive ocean. That’s not like it has ever been before. The old media can try to ignore it all they want. Sort of like ignoring the Blue Whale in your swimming pool.

    This is just the first introduction to this reality. We’ll be back to this with more soon whether we like it or not.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #4
  5. ClosetSubversive Inactive
    ClosetSubversive
    @ClosetSubversive

    I agree with Beck and Erickson.  I really can’t stand it when “we” act like “them”.  I like FB.  I use FB.  I’m not interested in a affirmative action for conservatives.  Conservatives should resist the temptation to do what the left does – wrap itself in faux outrage, loudly declare themselves to be victims in need of redress and then start making demands.  Yuck.

    • #5
  6. Aaron Miller Inactive
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Did anyone bother to ask Zuckerberg what stories would populate the Trending feed without the influence of editors?

    Did they ask Zuckerberg what goals he hopes his employees/contractors will balance in such editing?

    Did they ask what qualities Facebook looks for in such a contractor, as opposed another Facebook job like advertising?

    • #6
  7. Bob W Member
    Bob W
    @WBob

    Maybe Beck’s point is, Why are conservatives complaining about FB in ways that they don’t complain about the New York Times or NBC News? Do they go to liberal media outlets and demand changes like they did at FB? Do Senators demand answers from liberal media about their bias? FB warped the news? The NYT does that all the time in its own way. The question is, What’s different about FB that turns conservatives in progressive-sounding idiots? I don’t know the answer, but the answer is out there.

    • #7
  8. Dan Hanson Thatcher
    Dan Hanson
    @DanHanson

    Beck is sort of right:  The answer is not for facebook to become more conservative.  That’s an impossible task in Silicon Valley, where the workforce is young, liberal,  and comprised of social justice warriors and activists.

    The answer is transparency.   The thing facebook did wrong was to put ANY human editorial control over a ‘trending topics’ feed.   Everyone knows that ‘trending’ means it’s supposed to be the pulse of the public.  The whole POINT to having a ‘trending’ feed is to say that you’re hearing the voice of the people, and not the voice of an editorial board whether it’s left or right.

    Facebook can have a curated news feed.  They can call it “News we think you’ll like” or something else that makes it clear it’s a curated list.  And they can make that as liberal as they want.  But if they are going to use the word ‘trending’,  it should be based on an algorithm that simply looks at quantity and frequency,  and not content at all.   And if the trending news is all about funny cats or Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump,  so be it.  The point is that we understand that these are the topics people are actually talking about the most – not topics some journalism grad thinks we should be reading for our own good.

    Facebook lives on the ragged edge of sleazy practices.   Their privacy policies are a joke and change without warning.  They manipulate user’s news feeds for nefarious purposes, such as conducting large-scale experiments on mood manipulation without permission.   But unfortunately,  a large percentage of millenials get their news from social media,  so hidden censorship and misleading ‘trends’ are very dangerous.

    • #8
  9. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Aaron Miller:Did anyone bother to ask Zuckerberg what stories would populate the Trending feed without the influence of editors?

    Did they ask Zuckerberg what goals he hopes his employees/contractors will balance in such editing?

    Did they ask what qualities Facebook looks for in such a contractor, as opposed another Facebook job like advertising?

    Aaron,

    Yep, did they exercise simple common sense and stick to their mission or were they awed by the Silicon Valley mystique? If they didn’t get much done this time I suspect they’ll have another opportunity soon.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #9
  10. Fred Hadra Podcaster
    Fred Hadra
    @FredHadra

    Aaron Miller:Did anyone bother to ask Zuckerberg what stories would populate the Trending feed without the influence of editors?

    My thoughts exactly. Why does Facebook, with all of its programmatic power and algorithmic wisdom, have to rely on humans to curate its stories and news feeds? Seems so 2005. Not that you can’t find a way to hard code liberal wing bias into the process, but they could take the additional transparent step of making that particular curation algorithm open to public review.

    • #10
  11. Al Sparks Thatcher
    Al Sparks
    @AlSparks

    Viruscop:This is longer than my post, but read more Ricochet.

    Viruscop’s post should probably have been promoted instead.

    • #11
  12. Frozen Chosen Inactive
    Frozen Chosen
    @FrozenChosen

    So who are the other conservatives who attended?  I think they’re whining a bit.  If you’re goal is to make Facebook more conservative I think you’re going to have an uphill battle.

    • #12
  13. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Bob W:Maybe Beck’s point is, Why are conservatives complaining about FB in ways that they don’t complain about the New York Times or NBC News? Do they go to liberal media outlets and demand changes like they did at FB? Do Senators demand answers from liberal media about their bias? FB warped the news? The NYT does that all the time in its own way. The question is, What’s different about FB that turns conservatives in progressive-sounding idiots? I don’t know the answer, but the answer is out there.

    The difference is that, with Facebook, the right-wing activists think they can make a difference. This reveals the benefit of social media. The New York Times and NBC News are monolitic top-down organizations that dictate editorial policy. Facebook, by contrast, is a social network where users create the content and one tiny little box in the far corner of the page was influenced by the political bias of a few Facebook staffers.

    Unlike the Times or NBC, it’s not Facebook’s goal to dictate how Americans think. That’s why they became such a great target when staffers influenced the bias on one tiny little box in a far corner of the page.

    Political activists, on any side of the political spectrum, look for targets of opportunity. How much actual guilt is borne by the target is largely irrelevent. What matters is the likeliness that the target will cave in to pressure.

    • #13
  14. KC Mulville Inactive
    KC Mulville
    @KCMulville

    As for the meeting, I wasn’t there, and so I have no way of evaluating what went on.

    However, it does contribute to the growing realization on the Right that “conservatives” are a wildly diverse lot, far more diverse than we previously admitted. I do think we’re beginning to see more clearly that not only do we have some ideological differences, but that to some degree, various people’s conservatism was based heavily on tribal and personality alliances, mixed in with policy agreements.

    It hardly escapes notice that Hillary and Bernie supporters have the same split. The two candidates are both horribly liberal, ideologically, but one projects herself as a traditional liberal and the other as a crusader.

    The difference is emotion, not theory. We’re beginning to admit how emotional politics really is. Maybe, despite our pretensions to intellectual theory, it has always been raw emotion all along.

    Or to put it another way … when are we going to get this into our thick heads?

    • #14
  15. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Frozen Chosen:So who are the other conservatives who attended? I think they’re whining a bit. If you’re goal is to make Facebook more conservative I think you’re going to have an uphill battle.

    They’re goal isn’t to make Facebook more conservative. Their goal is to be seen to be fighting to hurt Facebook for not being conservative.

    • #15
  16. Jules PA Inactive
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    I agree with Dan Hanson #8

    “The answer is transparency. The thing facebook did wrong was to put ANY human editorial control over a ‘trending topics’ feed. Everyone knows that ‘trending’ means it’s supposed to be the pulse of the public. The whole POINT to having a ‘trending’ feed is to say that you’re hearing the voice of the people, and not the voice of an editorial board whether it’s left or right.”

    The point of a trending algorithm is to generate an unbiased picture of the discussions within the data set of FB participants.

    The moment a human brain directs a hand to interject into that algorithm it has become something else.

    Words have meaning.

    I disregard everything trending stories because it is almost always irrelevant to me.

    Zuckerberg should remember that his liberal bias clientele are not 100% of his potential market of advertisers or subscribers.

    Follow the money as a solution unfolds.

    • #16
  17. Al Sparks Thatcher
    Al Sparks
    @AlSparks

    The complaints about whiny conservatives at the Facebook confab are well taken.

    As for Zuckerberg, his meeting with them was probably a wise move.  Probably his biggest fear is Facebook going the way of myspace.com.  There are alternatives.  LinkedIn, which is perceived more as a job hunting site, is becoming more Facebook-like everyday.  Facebook is emulating Pinterest in many ways.

    Zuckerberg won the lottery, and he knows it.  He’ll probably always be rich, but I doubt his tech stardom will last the way Bill Gates’s or Steve Jobs’s did.  Facebook is more of a house of cards because it can be easily emulated.

    • #17
  18. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    As usual – What Dan Hanson said.

    • #18
  19. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Jules PA:I agree with Dan Hanson #8

    “The answer is transparency. The thing facebook did wrong was to put ANY human editorial control over a ‘trending topics’ feed. Everyone knows that ‘trending’ means it’s supposed to be the pulse of the public. The whole POINT to having a ‘trending’ feed is to say that you’re hearing the voice of the people, and not the voice of an editorial board whether it’s left or right.”

    The point of a trending algorithm is to generate an unbiased picture of the discussions within the data set of FB participants.

    The moment a human brain directs a hand to interject into that algorithm it has become something else.

    Words have meaning.

    I disregard everything trending stories because it is almost always irrelevant to me.

    Zuckerberg should remember that his liberal bias clientele are not 100% of his potential market of advertisers or subscribers.

    Follow the money as a solution unfolds.

    I am continuously amazed at the confidence with which people proclaim they know the single correct definition of the word “trending”.

    • #19
  20. Al Sparks Thatcher
    Al Sparks
    @AlSparks

    Dan Hanson: The answer is transparency. The thing facebook did wrong was to put ANY human editorial control over a ‘trending topics’ feed. Everyone knows that ‘trending’ means it’s supposed to be the pulse of the public. The whole POINT to having a ‘trending’ feed is to say that you’re hearing the voice of the people, and not the voice of an editorial board whether it’s left or right.

    One site that used to be more popular amongst tech workers was slashdot.org (which is still around).  Initial posts are heavily regulated much like Ricochet’s main feed.  Replies to those initial posts are promoted/demoted based on user input.

    It’s still probably the most transparent site I’ve seen.

    • #20
  21. Matt Upton Inactive
    Matt Upton
    @MattUpton

    It’s entirely fair to lambaste Facebook over this issue. Whether it was deliberate bias or the usual casual bias (e.g. “NY Times is a real publication, but The Blaze isn’t”), Facebook manipulated the impression of what their product users were sharing.

    There are a couple nuances to paraphrased questions from Beck I would like to know. I wouldn’t be opposed to a question like “Is ideological diversity ever considered for your editorial team?” This is not the same as a racial/gender quota. It’s an entirely reasonable assumption that a editorial team needs some conservative/liberal mix in order to fairly curate news sources. It’s not diversity for diversity sake, or even naked tribalism. It’s an understanding that if you fairly want to curate news taste for a country that is half right leaning, you should have a couple right leaning players.

    I understand the siren song of respectability. Facebook probably doesn’t want an entire side panel of “Obama’s secret Muslim Allegiances”. But Facebook editors, with an innate liberal bias, will lump all stories from PP baby parts to left-wing shadow government into the same lunatic fringe. All it would take are a few respected right-leaning team members to say, “No, this really is a legitimate story from a good source.”

    • #21
  22. Lazy_Millennial Inactive
    Lazy_Millennial
    @LazyMillennial

    I agree with Beck, Erickson, and Dan Hanson. Except I’m fine with some people involved in the editing process- either live people do it, or people write rules that do it automatically. While it’s easy to say “there should only be automated rules that catch obvious NSFW stuff,” this drastically underestimates trolls ability to sneak NSFW stuff around algorithms. I’d prefer it if their editorial board contained a broad range of ideologies, but they’re a private company and can do what they want.

    • #22
  23. Eudaimonia Rick Inactive
    Eudaimonia Rick
    @RickPoach

    I rarely use Facebook. Not just because it became an incredible time sink, but because freely giving so much personal information struck me as not in my best interest.

    I switched to Twitter because it’s much more witty and if any shadowy malefactors want to read my one liners, they are welcome to do so. However, I dropped Twitter cold once Jack Dorsey and his “Trust and Safety Council” began un-personing those who ruffled popular SJWs.

    I think that people were ready to accept the accusation of active bias at Facebook because they have already seen active bias at Twitter. And I also think that Zuckerberg saw Dorsey continuously doubling down on alienating half of his users, despite falling stock prices, and he decided on a less stupid approach.

    • #23
  24. Dan Hanson Thatcher
    Dan Hanson
    @DanHanson

    Misthiocracy:  I am continuously amazed at the confidence with which people proclaim they know the single correct definition of the word “trending”.

    Do you know of a definition of ‘trending’ which includes “articles our staff of interns thought you should read, regardless of whether anyone else is actually talking about it” ?

    One specific case mentioned was ‘Black Lives Matter’,  which was NOT trending on facebook in terms of discussion counts or mentions by members,  but which was added to a ‘trending news’ feed by an editor who simply thought it was an issue that should be trending if all was right with the world,  so he or she injected it into the trending feed.

    And yes,  I think that if you asked 100 internet-savvy people what ‘trending’ means,  you’d probably get close to 100 answers saying that it was news that was being most mentioned or linked to in the community.  So I’m pretty confident in that definition.

    The definition of ‘Trending’ as a verb from the Cambridge dictionary:

    to be one of the words, subjects, or names that is being mentioned most often on a social media website or a news website at a particular time:
    Within minutes of the incident her name was trending on Twitter.
    Click here for a list of trending topics.

    I think that’s exactly the meaning of the word almost everyone would agree with.

    • #24
  25. MoltoVivace Inactive
    MoltoVivace
    @MoltoVivace

    Note:

    We can do without the ISIS jokes.

    Any “conservative” who went to that sham of a “meeting” deserves [redacted].

    • #25
  26. Commodore BTC Inactive
    Commodore BTC
    @CommodoreBTC

    I wanted a list of questions and answers to those questions. You know, journalism. If someone has a link to that, please share it, cause I haven’t found it.

    I did not want to hear these people’s general impressions of Facebook.

    Give me the facts I need to formulate my own impression.

    • #26
  27. Eeyore Member
    Eeyore
    @Eeyore

    Fred Hadra: Why does Facebook, with all of its programmatic power and algorithmic wisdom, have to rely on humans to curate its stories and news feeds?

    Because it doesn’t have the “programmatic power and algorithmic wisdom” to do so.

    I listened to Glenn the day after the meeting. He felt Zuckerberg was telling the truth when he said that he wants humans completely out of the “trending” aspect of FB, but that the AI just isn’t there yet for several reasons, including, importantly, 80% of FB use is outside the US, and almost all of FB operations are in the US.

    Here is the Beck show with the FB discussion. Within the first 18 minutes, you have pretty much the whole story.

    • #27
  28. Vald the Misspeller Inactive
    Vald the Misspeller
    @ValdtheMisspeller

    Tucker Carlson who was also at the meeting disputes Beck’s characterization:
    Carlson said he was one person at the meeting who brought up increasing diversity at the company, and that Beck’s description was a “total mischaracterization” of what he was trying to say

    He also accuses Beck of playing the toady:
    I went to that meeting expecting Beck to cry, rend his garments while quoting James Madison, but that’s not at all what happened. He began the most extended assiduous suck-up I think I’ve ever seen a grown man commit.

    And this seems to comport with the interview Beck gave Time magazine which I think can be fairly described as a lip-chapping tongue bath with Zuckerberg’s hindquarters as its primary target.

    While apparently nobody was required to sign an NDA, there appears to be tacit agreement among participants not to disclose direct quotes from the meeting. Thus we’re left to choose whom to believe — the guy who wears bow ties, or the one who imagines himself a latter day Jeremiah, warning that the ascension of Trump is proof that God has decided to punish Americans for voting wrong.

    • #28
  29. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    This whole controversy has been very enlightening for me.  For one thing, it is the first time I ever noticed the trending topics box on Facebook.  I see that this morning’s trending topics are something about a site called Pornhub; something about Tyga and Kylie’s sex tape (some sort of Khardashians, I assume); and something about the EgyptAir crash, just in case the 24 cable news channels had not given me enough useless speculation on that subject, without any facts at all.

    Well, these topics don’t seem to be sufficiently conservative, or even sufficiently IQ>70, for my tastes.  But then again, I was very happy in my obliviousness to that box on Facebook, and I am glad to go back to my former habit of never looking at it.  Which, for me, solves the problem.

    • #29
  30. Jules PA Inactive
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    Hehehe, when stupidity tops the trending list, it all becomes clear.

    • #30
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