Dakota War College says that Senator John Thune is “taking action“—
HA ha ha ha ha! HO ho ho ho ho! Ha ha ha—action—HA HA HA ha ha!
And I thought the cheesecake my wife’s church served on Sunday was rich.
Senator John Thune’s idea of “action” is sending a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg demanding answers to questions about how he operates his private business. Senator Thune’s interest arises from allegations by anonymous former “news curators” that Facebook staff rigged the “Trending Topics” feature to exclude certain popular conservative news stories, boost liberal stories, and block any stories relating to Facebook itself. Facebook Search VP Tom Stocky denies the allegations.
Invoking his Commerce Committee’s “oversight authority,” Senator Thune asks Zuckerberg to send employees to speak to Congress and answer the following questions:
- Please describe Facebook’s organizational structure for the Trending Topics feature, and the steps for determining included topics. Who is ultimately responsible for approving its content?
- Have Facebook news curators in fact manipulated the content of the Trending Topics section, either by targeting news stories related to conservative views for exclusion or by injecting non-trending content?
- What steps is Facebook taking to investigate claims of politically motivated manipulation of news stories in the Trending Topics section? If such claims are substantiated, what steps will Facebook take to hold the responsible individuals accountable?
- In a statement responding to the allegations, Facebook has claimed to have “rigorous guidelines in place for the review team” to prevent “the suppression of political perspectives” or the “prioritization of one viewpoint over another or one news outlet over another.”
- When did Facebook first introduce these guidelines?
- Please provide a copy of these guidelines, as well as any changes or amendments since January 2014.
- Does Facebook provide training for its employees related to these guidelines? If so, describe what the training consists of, as well as its frequency.
- How does Facebook determine compliance with these guidelines? Does it conduct audits? If so, how often? What steps are taken when a violation occurs?
- Does Facebook maintain a record of curators’ decisions to inject a story into the Trending Topics section or target a story for removal? If such a record is not maintained, can such decisions be reconstructed or determined based on an analysis of the Trending Topics product
- If so, how many stories have curators excluded that represented conservative viewpoints or topics of interest to conservatives? How many stories did curators inject that were not, in fact, trending?
- Please provide a list of all news stories removed from or injected into the Trending Topics section since January 2014 [Senator John Thune, letter to Mark Zuckerberg, 2016.05.10].
Fascinating. Senator Thune is asking a private corporation to surrender what I suspect Mark Zuckerberg could easily categorize as trade secrets. Just one month ago, Senator Thune voted for Senator Orrin Hatch’s S. 1890, the Defend Trade Secrets Act, which will allow companies to sue in federal court to protect intellectual property like “customer lists, algorithms, software codes, unique designs, industrial techniques, and food recipes.” Once the President signs that bill (and the White House said last month it “strongly supports” S. 1890), Zuckerberg might consider waving that new law in Senator Thune’s face.
Senator Thune hangs his big-government hat on the possibility that Facebook “misleads the public.” Again, fascinating: TransCanada may be misleading the public about the contents of its leaky Keystone pipeline, hiding the specific chemical content of its tar sands oil behind the veil of “trade secrets.” Yet now that TransCanada has spilled nearly 17,000 gallons of that secret sauce on South Dakota farmland and restricted the information the public has to that spill, Senator Thune has not asked TransCanada any questions or demanded that they surrender their trade secrets.
Senator Thune says his interest in laying his heavy government hand on Mark Zuckerberg’s throat flows from his desire to protect “the values of an open Internet.” Yet Senator Thune opposed the FCC’s efforts to protect and enforce net neutrality.
And come on: if Senator Thune is really interested in “hold[ing] those responsible to account if there has been political bias in the dissemination of trending news” and finds “censor[ing] or manipulat[ing] political discussion is an abuse of trust,” then why the heck is he sponsoring Dakota War College, which misleads the public by claiming to be “South Dakota’s #1 Political Website” but routinely censors and manipulates political discussion to exclude liberal content and boosts uninteresting conservative press releases?
Senator Thune’s keen interest in Facebook’s editorial choices casts in even keener relief the Senator’s refusal to do any real work:
A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) slammed Thune for launching the probe.
“The Republican Senate refuses to hold hearings on Judge Garland, refuses to fund the President’s request for Zika aid and takes the most days off of any Senate since 1956, but thinks Facebook hearings are a matter of urgent national interest,” Adam Jentleson wrote in an email.
“The taxpayers who pay Republican senators’ salaries probably want their money back” [Elise Viebeck, “Unfriended: Senator Hits Zuckerberg over Alleged Anti-Conservative Bias at Facebook,” Washington Post, 2016.05.10].
Facebook, like pretty much everything else online, is full of bias. When we regular folks encounter that bias, we either ignore it, correct it, or destroy it with superior blog content. But conservative Republican John Thune thinks the proper response is big government action.