Face­book speech po­lice hint at hid­den bias

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY CH­ERYL K. CHUM­LEY

Face­book re­moved a meme posted by a po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion, Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Speaks PAC, that crit­i­cized Pres­i­dent Obama’s re­sponse to the deaths of four Amer­i­cans at the U.S. Con­sulate in Beng­hazi, Libya. The meme read: “Obama called the SEALs and they got bin Laden. When the SEALs called Obama, they got de­nied.” And it came on the heels of me­dia reve­la­tions that the White House had known about and de­nied a re­quest from SEALs for backup at the diplo­matic mis­sion.

Face­book re­moved the meme not once, but twice, within a 24hour span over the Oct. 27-28 week­end. It would only seem nat­u­ral to won­der why.

“Po­lit­i­cal speech is the most pro­tected speech,” said Gene Policin­ski, se­nior vice pres­i­dent and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the First Amend­ment Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton. Still, Face­book is a pri­vate com­pany and may be granted wider lat­i­tude than the gov­ern­ment in reg­u­lat­ing what can be posted as speech on its site, he said. But that lat­i­tude might one day shorten. “I re­ally don’t have any sense of [po­lit­i­cal bias at Face­book] … but as so­cial me­dia be­comes all-per­va­sive, they can be­come quasi-pub­lic … like a util­ity com­pany.”

So if Face­book is tak­ing on a semi-pub­lic role, why the crack­down on po­lit­i­cal speech?

It was a mis­take, said An­drew Noyes, man­ager of the com­pany’s pub­lic pol­icy com­mu­ni­ca­tion. In an email, Mr. Noyes wrote: “This was an er­ror and we apol­o­gize for any in­con­ve­nience it may have caused. Our ded­i­cated User Op­er­a­tions Team re­views mil­lions of pieces of con­tent a day and our poli­cies are en­forced by a team of re­view­ers in sev­eral of­fices across the globe. This team looks at hun­dreds of thou­sands of re­ports ev­ery week, and as you might ex­pect, oc­ca­sion­ally, we make a mis­take and block a piece of con­tent we shouldn’t have.”

Richard Brauer Jr., a re­tired Air Force colonel and a founder of SOS, raises a good ques­tion.

“It’s al­ways pos­si­ble it was an er­ror,” he said. “But why’d they pull it down in the first place? Why choose that par­tic­u­lar meme?”

Af­ter sev­eral emails and a tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion with Mr. Noyes and one of his col­leagues, Face­book still can’t shed any light on that par­tic­u­lar ques­tion. Per­haps that’s be­cause the com­pany wouldn’t an­swer spe­cific ques­tions, pre­fer­ring in­stead to is­sue a sin­gle state­ment for at­tri­bu­tion and go off-record with all other com­ments. That’s Face­book’s priv­i­lege. But such tightly con­trolled pub­lic mes­sag­ing doesn’t quell the cu­ri­ous, or the out­raged.

“I think it’s ab­so­lutely un­con­scionable,” said Larry Bai­ley, a re­tired Navy SEAL and a founder of SOS. “It just gives you an idea how much the main­stream me­dia, which in­cludes Face­book, is in the lib­eral camp.”

Mr. Bai­ley’s sup­po­si­tion is gain­ing trac­tion. In Fe­bru­ary, Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg co­zied up to Mr. Obama at a din­ner in San Fran­cisco that was most def­i­nitely not — ac­cord­ing to White House spokesman Jay Car­ney — a po­lit­i­cal fundraiser, but rather a ca­sual get-to­gether of the pres­i­dent and what hap­pened to be some of the world’s wealth­i­est tech­nol­ogy ex­ec­u­tives. The din­ner was hosted by John Do­err, a ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist and top Demo­crat donor who also hap­pens to be mar­ried to an­other top Demo­crat donor. A cou­ple months later, Mr. Zucker­berg hosted his own get-to­gether with Mr. Obama at his Face­book head­quar­ters in Menlo Park, Calif. In the mean­time, Face­book’s po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties have sky­rock­eted.

In Fe­bru­ary, the Cen­ter for Re­spon­sive Pol­i­tics re­ported Face­book’s po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee had raised $170,000 in the last three months of 2011.

“And while it has yet to do­nate to a sin­gle politi­cian on Capi­tol Hill,” the non­profit cen­ter re­ported, “the com­pany is ca­pa­ble of tap­ping a friendly and pow­er­ful net­work of donors to come up with a se­ri­ous amount of cam­paign cash. Namely, its own em­ploy­ees.”

Face­book work­ers gave 67 per­cent, or $113,750, of all do­na­tions to the PAC in the fourth quar­ter, the cen­ter found. Mr. Zucker­berg him­self made a first­time po­lit­i­cal do­na­tion of $5,000, the cen­ter re­vealed.

Not all the do­na­tions went to Democrats. But Face­book’s PAC was a top 2012 con­trib­u­tor to eight mem­bers of Congress, ac­cord­ing to the cen­ter’s rat­ing sys­tem; of those eight, five were Democrats. So what does it all mean? Well, at the very least, Face­book can’t deny it is an emerg­ing po­lit­i­cal player. And it can’t deny that Democrats are of­ten re­cip­i­ents of Face­book money. Take that with the grow­ing scan­dal in­volv­ing the White House re­sponse to the Beng­hazi at­tacks, the tick-tock of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion clock, and the known ten­dency of the main­stream me­dia to skew sto­ries to their lik­ing — think NBC’s cre­ative edit to paint ac­cused killer Ge­orge Zim­mer­man as a racist — and you’ve got a recipe for jus­ti­fi­able sus­pi­cion.

Sud­denly, it doesn’t seem so silly to sug­gest Face­book ac­tu­ally pulled a mes­sage to pro­tect a po­lit­i­cal agenda.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

He’s got the pres­i­dent’s back? Pres­i­dent Obama and Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg

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