Thune Tackles Allegations of Facebook Liberal Bias

Senator Thune takes action....

Senator Thune takes action….

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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.”
    1. When did Facebook first introduce these guidelines?
    2. Please provide a copy of these guidelines, as well as any changes or amendments since January 2014.
    3. Does Facebook provide training for its employees related to these guidelines?  If so, describe what the training consists of, as well as its frequency.
    4. How does Facebook determine compliance with these guidelines?  Does it conduct audits?  If so, how often? What steps are taken when a violation occurs?
  5. 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
    1. 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?
    2. 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.

Fascinating.

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  1. Public radio discussed the allegations this afternoon and pretty well demolished them. Thune is a worthless parrot of GOP talking points that seldom ever make sense or pass an elementary smell test.

    Freedom of speech and press also seem relevant. Of course if Zuckerberg held a gun at somebody’s head, that would obviously be a 2nd amendment right and obviously above board warranting no attention whatsoever.

    This is royal high silliness on the part of Thune. Unfortunately he is probably not smart enough to realize how stupid his action really is.

    This is royal high silliness on Thunes

  2. Zuckerberg should politely tell Thune to get back to doing actual work like confirming Supreme Court Justices and let Zuckerberg tend to his job.

    This just in, credible allegations have surfaced that Fox News is not actually “Fair and Balanced.” One organization is touted as a news organization and the other is a social platform, but Thune goes after the social platform for not being fair and balanced.

    This just in, the Chamber of Commerce favors conservative Republican causes more often than it supports liberal or Democratic causes. Thune will get to the bottom of this, too! He will root out bias wherever it may lie.

    What we need according to Thune is more government oversight and regulation of private business and less government oversight of federal government programs like EB-5.

  3. I think we have finally figured out why Thune is often referred to as an empty suit. And, why he hardly ever says….well, anything. When he does, he is so off-base and misleading – it is incredible. Launching a probe based on allegations from past Facebook employees? Based on a story out of (wait for it) Gizmodo? Seriously?

    I wouldn’t say that Thune is totally worried about November…..but if he was running unopposed again, this “probe” would never have been initiated.

    When I check in on my Facebook page, I see alot of GOP generated stories about Benghazi!!, Clinton’s emails, Planned Parenthood, Affordable Care Act, IRS, etc. No, Facebook isn’t “shutting out” the GOP, for crying out loud.

    By the way Mr Thune, we rural South Dakotans are still waiting on our internet service being improved, like you promised. Funding was approved for that specific purpose several years ago, but guess what? No improved internet. A probe of that waste of taxpayer money would be much more worthy than this show trial that you want to have with Facebook. We just love working with internet service that falls somewhere between dial-up and DSL, (reminder, it is 2016) and while using that dated internet service, we get the pleasure of listening to the repeated bombers fly overhead since we are in the expanded military training zone that you supported.

  4. Good point, Darin! Why hasn’t John Thune demanded that Joop Bollen come talk about EB-5 before the Commerce Committee?

    Roger, Thune’s letter certainly get Dana and other rural South Dakotans the faster Internet he promised.

  5. While cattle and grain prices are at an all time low our SD reps. do nothing about the importing of foreign products being used to drive down prices. Thune and the rest of SD reps were hiding some where when “COOL” was being repealed. Yet they come out of the closet on the important things like Facebook. Also hiding in their closet when the company that built the safest pipeline ever started leaking again or should I say “still”. While unknown exactly Keystone 1 pipeline has been leaking for some time using Trans Canada’s 2 drops per minute rate on a shut down, non pressurized line, but did Thune ask any questions about these pipe lies? No they just turned of the light in the closet.

  6. Doug-thanks for the link.

    John Thune-Bringing South Dakota values to Washington?

  7. Thune, huh yeah
    What is it good for?
    Absolutely nothing, oh hoh, oh
    Thune huh yeah
    What is it good for?
    Absolutely nothing, say it again y’all
    Thune, huh good God
    What is it good for?
    Absolutely nothing, listen to me

    Read more: Edwin Starr – War Lyrics | MetroLyrics

  8. Thune’s making his case to be Trump’s VP. Grandstanding for attention from the conservative GOP base. This is Thune’s “LOOK AT ME!!!!!!” moment.

  9. Facebook. Isn’t that the medium people use to exchange conservative memes like that GOP party candidate whose only picture is of him wearing a 20 year old military uniform? Facebook give GOP party members a place to make fun of blonde women and spread photoshopped pictures of Hillary Clinton shaking hands with Osama Bin Laden and pretend like the photo is real. Thune should investigate that.

  10. SD making national news, again! Can’t Thune just stand behind McConnell and keep his mouth shut? And why is he holding up a pic of Rounds??

  11. Thanks, Paul. Mr Wiken, great link. I receive Farm News but seldom ever look at it because I have no connections to farming any more. What is that old saying about truth will set you fre…..no… truth will get you fired, that’s it.

  12. You can all rant on about Thune’s questions surrounding Facebook, but personally I this this is fantastic. Clearly if our Senior Senator can devote his time to learning the trending algorithms of a social media site, then it suggests we have no real problems in our nation anymore right?

    No more issues with poverty. No problems with education. No need to discuss wars or how to properly fund the VA. No need to concern ourselves with the selection of Federal judges including the Supreme Court vacancy. No concerns about free trade agreements, the shrinking middle class, access to healthcare, tax reform, discrimination, crime, or with the $100B a year or so which is kept out of the treasury due to companies hiding assets offshore.

    Nope – none of these things are problems anymore because clearly we have facebook news feeds to focus upon! Fan-fricking-tastic!!! Bravo job Senator – I’m certainly impressed you’re collecting a government check for this hard-hitting research that you seem to care about.

  13. There is a lot to figure out about what the Department of Energy is doing in Spink County. Maybe he should spend a few minutes drafting some questions for DOE.

  14. “But conservative Republican John Thune thinks the proper response is big government action.”

    More proof that both parties are for big government. There is no longer a true conservative voice in politics. The obsolesce of conservative policies began with the 14th Amendment. The result became liberal corporate capitalism that now is being preserved with crony capitalism. Nothing at all conservative about that.

  15. If there were more mouth breathers on Facebook — a lot more — it may qualify for Thune’s litmus test for fair and balanced. Thank you God for giving us John Thune to solve our most pressing problems in our hour of need!

  16. Dear Senator Thune, two points: (1) Facebook is a private corporation, owned by Zuckerberg; (2) Fox News is a private corporation, owned by Murdoch. Both, obviously, can do anything they damn well please. So shut up and try to actually do some work, okay?

  17. i hope Zuckerberg tells the senator stickman hack from sd to fo.

  18. Great Job Chad putting this in perspective..esp to the Keystone Pipedream.
    Let’s Make America Tall and Tan Again!

  19. The Orange faced Facebook questioner. Can his scowling face go to another meeting at VFW’s and Senior Citizens meetings to spout his bile? I never get a response on Thunes Facebook page. I must be blocked or ignored. George McGovern, Ben Rifel, Dick Kniep, Stephanie, Herseth, Governor Herseth,Tom Daschle….South Dakota once was swimming in intelligent world class leaders. Citizens United has changed all that.

  20. And then there is the matter of the law under which Thune takes this action and the First Amendment statement that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” Even some conservatives have disassociated themselves from this inquiry. http://thehill.com/policy/technology/279498-some-conservatives-uneasy-about-facebook-inquiry-from-congress

    This episode can be added to Thune’s record. And some thought that Sen. Pressler’s walk into a janitor closet was a supreme disqualification.

  21. Thune, who also holds a Republican leadership role in the Senate, said the letter was not meant to suggest anything “untoward” on the part of Facebook.

    What was it then? Veiled threat of intimidation to come?

  22. I refuse to watch fox news. It is not news. It is extreme right wing hate mongering. Same for 95% of cable entertainment news. I also do not listen to talk radio for the same reason. I admit, I do listen to an occasional belfrage podcast. Purely for entertainment purposes only. All his hand wringing over his parties choice of trump is very entertaining. The point is, I have the right to pick and choose what newspapers I want to read, what tv I want to watch, and what blogs I frequent. Facebook, through millions of members and user algorithms, know what their clientele want. Belfrage knows that if he caters to the 2 dozen listeners and callers he has, they will keep coming back. Same for fox entertainment. They know their message is heard loud and clear in every senior citizen nursing home across this country. That’s why in any typical fox entertainment hour you will see 3 ads for viagra. It’s called capitalism. It’s also called free speech.

    Get over it thune.

  23. North Carolina school votes to allow students to carry mace in case they are attacked by Trangenders in the bathroom. Trans are the ones likely to be attacked.

  24. If Thune had any courage at all he would chastise and hope to legislate Cory and Dakota Free Press for being a reckless liberal blog.
    Come on Thune, put ’em up.

  25. Thune’s blowing the dog whistle. Anti-GOP party bias. All the dogs are now looking at him – which was his plan anyway. Thune really wants to be Trump’s VP choice because 1) He can run for both senate and VP at the same time; 2) He’ll win the senate race in a walk even if he’s on the ballot for 2 different races; 3) He’s bored with the senate and would love to be VP … just a heartbeat away. 4) All this adds up to nothing to lose, everything to gain. He’s making his play for attention.

  26. And the irrationality trend continues. Facebook is liberally biased and management of the website is accused of editorializing and censorship of otherwise conservative proselytizing, indifferent to other socio-political themes. I don’t know about anyone else, but I form my own opinions and comments about political platforms, values and politicians from personal experience and my personal experience with Thune, Rounds and Noem have never been good; nor have I found any of the three of them to be genuine, concerned or responsive to anyone in South Dakota outside of the power structure of the Republican inner circle. As long as the three of them continue to treat me and my counterparts as inconsequential nuisances, I’ll continue to demonstrate an anti-Thune bias in what I write and what I determine to be reality.

  27. well, they got lucky w/ IRS’ starin at their 501(c)3 ect. hiding places so, hey, when we get negative votes-get rid of um, and when we get negative social media, -investigation!!!!!!!!

    mitch to john. you are one-ah them young folks, johnny, get some photo-ops w/ that rich zuccerman boy, maybe turn him to the dark side:)

  28. That Fox News outrage is precious, Mike from Iowa.

    Mike Kokenge SR is right. Nursing home residents sit there in their rooms and watch Fox news all day. I see this happening every day when I visit a relative. When critical thinking ability is impaired by age and/or dementia both Fox News and the GOP party thrive.

  29. cotton would be the smarter play for trump, but he’ll enlist a woman/minority. cotton has done something, anyway. imo

  30. Thune has an extra $10 million in his campaign account he won’t need for the senate race and could apply to a Presidential race if he’s the VP choice. That’s something. He’s got a good list of contributors and brings the Warshington insider experience Trump is advertising for in a VP candidate. He can smooth things for Trump in congress. He’s not a woman, but he can be the marlboro man who gets the womens’ vote. He’s not a Hispanic, but he did live near some in California for 4 years while he attended the Bible Institute of Los Angeles. You can see the wheels turning in Thune’s brain. He knows in his heart of hearts that he’s the guy Trump needs.

  31. Thune’s calling his friends getting them to call Trump and recommend Thune for VP. He got Scott Brown (who?) to publicly recommend him. Mike Rounds is surely talking up Thune to his buddy Trump. Kristi Noem is certainly telling the Trump campaign (because Trump himself won’t take her call) that Thune makes women swoon. Thune will recruit more to publicly and privately recommend him to Trump. He’s waging an all out behind the scenes campaign to be chosen for VP.

  32. If Thune gets elected VP, Kristi Noem is thinking, then she will get appointed to his senate seat.

    If Thune gets elected VP, Dennis Daugaard is thinking, then he can appoint his son-in-law to the senate.

    If Thune gets elected VP, Troy Jones is thinking, then all of his GOP party excuse making will land him a 6-figure government job – probably on the Supreme Court.

    If Thune gets elected VP, Pat Powers is thinking, then he can make millions as a middleman on government contracts.

    There’s a lot of thinking going on.

  33. Doug, no doubt! That story about the Iowa cartoonist getting canned warrants Senator Thune’s attention. That Iowa paper I’m sure claims to present unbiased news, yet it fires an editorial cartoonist for pointing out documentable facts that prove objectionable to a corporate sponsor. If Facebook’s editorial choices warrant Thune’s Congressional attention, so do those of the Iowa Farm News!

  34. MSNBC’s Steve Benen is thinking along David and Roger’s First Amendment lines: under what authority does John Thune seek to investigate or regulate a private corporation’s free expression?

    Right off the bat, it’s difficult to understand how Congress has any oversight responsibilities towards a private social-media company. I haven’t the foggiest idea if Facebook puts its thumb on the scales to help the left with Trending Topics – the evidence is thin, at best, based on the word of anonymous contractors – but let’s say for the sake of conversation that the allegations are 100% accurate. Then what? How, exactly, would federal lawmakers justify intervening in Facebook’s ideological practices? [Steve Benen, “The Wrong Republican to Pick a Fight with Facebook,” MSNBC, 2016.05.11]

    Benen also notes that Senator Thune spoke up against the Fairness Doctrine in 2007:

    Since 1987 we have seen even greater growth in how we get news and information including the rise of talk radio, internet news sites, and blogs, yet some critics on the left are calling for the reinstitution of the Fairness Doctrine. The efforts of these critics, who are especially offended by the success of conservative talk radio, should be rejected. Our support for freedom of conscience and freedom of speech means that we must support the rights granted to even those with whom we disagree. Giving power to a few to regulate fairness in the media is a recipe for disaster on the scale that George Orwell so aptly envisioned [Senator John Thune, “Reject Orwellian Calls for Broadcast ‘Fairness’,” RealClearPolitics, 2007.07.09].

    Orwellian, said Senator Thune, who now wants to interrogate Mark Zuckerberg for his First Amendment activities. Memory hole, duckspeak….

  35. Jay Williams evidently reads Dakota Free Press. The Democratic U.S. Senate candidate’s press release today on the Thune-Facebook fracas mirrors the thinking in the original post and from the commentariat:

    Senator Thune’s actions are suspect on many levels. Facebook and Mr. Zuckerberg have First Amendment rights that allow them to express their views. These are the same First Amendment rights that Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and many other right wing entities use to spew their hateful propaganda. By engaging in what appears to be a political attack on a company and its founder who do not subscribe to Thune’s right wing ideals while ignoring right wing media who often engage in unfounded, misleading and untrue attacks, Senator Thune illustrates his blatant partisan agenda.

    Senator Thune is asking Facebook and Mr. Zuckerberg to reveal what could certainly be considered “trade secrets” for how they determine what is or is not “trending”. How can Senator Thune have taken this action after he just voted for the Defend Trade Secrets Act which is designed to allow companies the ability to protect their trade secrets.

    Finally, Senator Thune inexplicably claims his actions are designed to protect “the values of an open Internet.” This is in direct contrast to Senator Thune’s opposition to the FCC’s efforts to enforce “net neutrality” which is intended to guarantee a free and open internet [Jay Williams, press release, 2016.05.11].

    Senator Thune’s hypocrisy on this issue is so obvious that everyone is seeing it. No wonder Dakota War College is curling up in a ball and dying.

  36. “Facebook and Mr. Zuckerberg have First Amendment rights that allow them to express their views.”

    But Senator Thune does not have the First Amendment right to respond. Hypocrites.

  37. Thune doesn’t have the right to use his position in gubmint to harass people. Remember the stink wingnuts raised accusing the IRS of targeting wingnut’s so called non-profits.

    But then IOKIYAR, right Sibby?

  38. Not to be done by John, Mike Rounds has come up with own headline.
    In today’s Rapid City Journal’s editorial page titled the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly they posted about Rounds advocating the Cyber Act of War Act.
    The Journal wants to know from Rounds why he isn’t working on pertinent issues like the cost of health care, the economy, and the cost of higher education.
    “It is hard to get excited about a bill that seems to do little more than keep bureaucrats busy while having no impact on our daily lives”. Rapid City Journal Editorial Staff.

  39. Meanwhile Roger, also in today’s RC Journal opinion page John Tsitrian points out how Trump’s position on America’s trade agreements will seriously harm South Dakota agriculture, yet Noem and Rounds have endorsed him and apparently Thune wants to be his VP.

  40. Mr Troy Jones thinks what Thune is doing is a good thing.
    Facebook is a product with over one billion customers.

    FB Founder Zuckerberg is laughing over an expensive bottle of wine in his yacht over the extra publicity Sen What’s His Name Thune is giving him today. Publicity is good for business and he’ll probably write Thune a check and that’ll be the end of complaining for Sen What’s His Name Thune (from ND is it ,Zuckerberg wonders) Business has never been better he smiles as he picks up his newborn child.

  41. Photo op for vice you got to be kidding .Troy would vote for him I bet a lot of them drink the koolaid over there,Facebook Thune I love it. Photo op sounds better though.

  42. Just another case of “ignore the man behind the curtain,” or rather, “ignore the big issues by tossing in little issues of no concern in order to draw attention away from the big issues.” Bobblehead Johnny does it well; he maybe learned it from Dubya.

  43. “FB Founder Zuckerberg is laughing over an expensive bottle of wine in his yacht over the extra publicity Sen What’s His Name Thune is giving him today.”

    Sounds like Zuckerberg is a lot like Trump :)

  44. grudznick prediction: this blogging got Mr. H 5 more votes and lost him 13.

  45. thune need to stick to shining the Koch brothers shoes……………

  46. Zuckerberg’s crap newsfeed algorithms are one bandaid on top of another and are designed to do one thing and only one thing and that is to drive ad revenues into his pocket through brute force. Facebook is known for poorly written code that needs to be constantly tweaked not unlike the crap Bill Gates churns out. A quick search finds countless users frustrated by their bs tweaks.

    Zuckerberg was/is a mediocre programmer who stole a good idea and managed to manipulate it into a hell of a business through luck, persistence and more luck. Skill at coding? Sorry, but the boy probably still struggles with QBasic.

  47. The Federalist sure gilded wingnut’s lillies.

    but it’s been the Left that wanted to give government the power to dictate what kind of cakes Americans bake, who they have to let into their bathrooms, what ingredients they must not put in their food and whose contraception they must buy. Conservatives have, in the past few years, avoided such intrusions.

    Say what?

  48. Nice find, Rorschach. And isn’t that truly the case always? GOP claims that they support small gov’t. That is, until they don’t.

  49. Zuckerberg probably hasn’t contributed the maximum to Thune’s campaign stash and any wretched superpacs of Thune’s. Looney Thuney has gotten worse instead of better. Maybe basketball dribbling has long-term bad consequences for rational brain functioning.