Sen. Cruz Questions Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook's Censorship of Conservatives

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before a joint hearing of the U.S. Senate Committees on the Judiciary and on Commerce, Science, and Transportation today, and he will testify before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce tomorrow.  With his usual acuity, Senator Ted Cruz highlighted some of the key problems with liberal social media companies' treatment of conservatives during his questioning (1:46:32 to 1:52:14):

. . . Sen. Cruz: Well, Mr. Zuckerberg, I will say there are a great many Americans who I think are deeply concerned that Facebook and other tech companies are engaged in a pervasive pattern of bias and political censorship.  There have been numerous instances with Facebook.  In May of 2016 Gizmodo reported that Facebook had purposely and routinely suppressed conservative stories from trending news, including stories about CPAC, including stories about Mitt Romney, including stories about the Lois Lerner IRS scandal, including stories about Glenn Beck.  In addition to that, Facebook has initially shut down the Chick-fil-A appreciation day page, has blocked a post of a Fox News reporter, has blocked over two dozen Catholic pages, and most recently, blocked Trump supporter Diamond and Silk's page with 1.2 million Facebook followers after determining their content and brand were "unsafe to the community."  To a great many Americans, that appears to be a pervasive pattern of political bias.  Do you agree with that assessment? 

Zuckerberg:  Senator, let me say a few things about this.  First, I understand where that concern is coming from, because Facebook and the tech industry are located in Silicon Valley, which is an extremely left-leaning place.  This is actually a concern that I have and that I have tried to root out in the company, is making sure that we don't have any bias in the work that we do, and I think it is a fair concern that people would at least wonder about this. 

Sen. Cruz:  Let me ask this question.  Are you aware of any ad or page that has been taken down from Planned Parenthood? 

Zuckerberg:  Senator, I'm not, but let me just... 

Sen. Cruz:  How about 

Zuckerberg:  I'm not specifically aware of those... 

Sen. Cruz:  How about any Democratic candidate for office? 

Zuckerberg:  I'm not specifically aware; I'm not sure. 

Sen. Cruz:  In your testimony, you say that you have 15-20,000 people working on security and content review.  Do you know the political orientation of those 15-20,000 people engaged in content review. 

Zuckerberg:  No, Senator, we do not generally ask people about their political orientation when they're joining the company. 

. . .  

Sen. Cruz:  Do you know of those 15-20,000 people engaged in content review, how many, if any, have supported financially a Republican candidate for office? 

Zuckerberg:  Senator, I do not know that. 

Sen. Cruz:  Your testimony says, "It is not enough that we just connect people.  We have to make those connections positive."  It says, "We have to make sure people aren't using their voice to hurt people or spread misinformation.  We have a responsibility not just to build tools but to make sure those tools are used for good."  Mr. Zuckerberg, do you feel it's your responsibility to assess users whether they are good and positive connections or ones those 15-20,000 people deem unacceptable or deplorable? 

. . . 

Zuckerberg:  Senator, I think there are a number of things that we would all agree are clearly bad.  Foreign interference in our elections, terrorism, self-harm.  Those are things... 

Sen. Cruz:  What about censorship? 

Zuckerberg:  Ah, well, I think that you would probably agree that we should remove terrorist propaganda from the service.  So that, I agree, I think is clearly bad activity that we want to get down and we're generally proud of how well we do with that.  What I can say, and I do want to get this in before the end here, is that I am very committed to making sure Facebook is a platform for all ideas.  That is a very important founding principle of what we do.  We're proud of the discourse and the different ideas that people can share on the service, and that is something that, as long as I'm running the company, I'm going to be committed to making sure is the case.

As a practical matter, no matter what Facebook's big picture commitments are, Silicon Valley liberals are making the operational decisions about which posts, pages, and advertisements violate Facebook's terms of use.  To his credit, Zuckerberg recognizes this problem, but it does not seem like enough "conservative sensitivity training" has been done.  Facebook blocked the following ad from Republican state senate candidate Aric Nesbitt in Michigan for being "shocking, disrespectful or sensational content, including ads that depict violence or threats of violence":

“I’m proud to announce my candidacy for State Senate. Lansing needs conservative, West Michigan values, and as our next State Senator, I will work to strengthen our economy, limit government, lower our auto insurance rates, balance the budget, stop sanctuary cities, pay down government debt and be a Pro-Life, Pro-Second Amendment leader for the people. Find out more at”

If that's the content that Facebook deems inappropriate, virtually all speech from conservatives and Republicans will violate the site's policies.  And as we learned in the oral arguments for Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, even a liberal lawyer arguing before the Supreme Court automatically thinks that conservative messages are "political" while liberal messages are neutral.  Liberals are proficient at groupthink.  Even if the liberal Facebook content moderators have good intentions and genuinely believe they are evaluating content neutrally, they are going to deem speech to be "shocking" or "disrespectful" simply for containing traditional, mainstream conservative principles.