Conservative claims of tech bias, "working the refs"

A thread in response to a Verge article about YouTube demonetization.

Welcome to Too Long; Don’t Tweet, a new project where I take Twitter threads the probably should have been articles, and turn them into blogs. If you follow me on Twitter (@ParkerMolloy), you probably know what’s in store. I’ll try not to send out more than 1 or 2 e-mails a week with updates.

For the most part, I won’t be changing a whole lot in terms of formatting from Twitter to blog. As my tweets auto-delete after a set period of time, though, I figured that this would be a decent way to create a somewhat more permanent home for threads I think are noteworthy.


June 7, 2019:

Lots of lines in this piece that should raise a few eyebrows and set off some alarms 🚨 👀

So, there’s been lots of talk about how some conservatives don’t feel comfortable expressing their views at work... views that often include being anti-LGBTQ. And so companies have been trying to accommodate them... at the expense of, you guessed it, LGBTQ people.

This is absolutely nuts. Screenshots from internal directories, containing personal information like phone numbers and addresses, ending up on right-wing sites? Yikes.

Yeah, for all the people saying that demonetizing SC for repeatedly breaking the site’s rules is “silencing” him, they sure don’t seem to care when it’s LGBTQ people getting demonetized when they don’t break rules. Go figure.

But this last one is the BIG takeaway...

Years of right-wingers yelling that they’re being censored and oppressed and whatnot... to the point where you have members of Congress and the president complaining...

It’s created a real incentive for these companies to walk on eggshells so as not to accidentally make them mad.

That last line, though. THAT is the key.

This isn’t about achieving “fairness” or “balance” or anything like that. It’s about creating an environment where these companies have to ask, “Is enforcing this policy REALLY worth it?”

And it will never, ever, ever end.

And working the refs like this can make a giant difference. Look what happened with Facebook.

I honestly believe it’s possible that the fallout from one shoddy Gizmodo blog post with a terrible clickbait headline may have changed the direction of the 2016 presidential election based on everything that followed.

So, in May 2016, @MichaelFNunez wrote a post at Gizmodo titled “Former Facebook Workers: We Routinely Suppressed Conservative News.”

!!! Huge scandal, right?!

Well...

When you start reading it, you’ll very quickly note that “workers” (plural) is just... one guy. And oh, he happens to have a personal incentive here based on his own self-identified political views.

I have no idea how the writer of this piece verified this line or if he just took the single source’s word for it?

But basically, the source argued that there was something that was organically trending on the site, but wasn’t showing up in the actual trending tab.

And at this point, Facebook had been open about the role that the human curators of the trending section would play: they’d keep things moving along, help curate the story selection, make sure that the site was linking to reputable sources.

Well...

So let’s see which organically trending topics and news sources the guy was upset weren’t being included in the trending tab.

1. Lois Lerner - right-wing media outlets got really into conspiracy theories involving Lerner, an IRS official

While the story was all over far-right sites, arguing that there was a shadowy conspiracy involving Lerner and the IRS singling out conservative non-profits for extra scrutiny... that was pretty obviously nonsense.

In reality, it wasn’t that these non-profits were being targeted for being conservative... liberal-leaning groups were ALSO targeted. Basically, politically-minded groups got extra screening no matter which direction they leaned.

There were lists of words people were told to be on the lookout for when screening IRS applications as possibility being political.

“Tea Party,” for instance. “Patriot,” “Progressive,” etc. Anyway, it makes total sense that Facebook wasn’t pumping conspiracy theories into trends

2. Drudge Report. Now... there’s a VERY obvious reason a link to this site might not trend on Facebook... any guesses?

Answer: Because it doesn’t create any original content. The site is just a list of links. It’s mind-boggling that the guy here doesn’t realize this?

And 3. Because everything old is new again...

The author of this story did interview another person, who said that yes, Facebook would try to cite non-partisan sources whenever possible. For instance, if you see something completely wild being reported by ONLY fringe blogs, it’s best to wait to see if a reputable site covers

The author of the Gizmodo story did interview other curators (plural), who said that the single source the “suppression” narrative came from wasn’t telling the truth.

Oh, and this is VERY notable.

So, the story here was that 1 guy said stories were being suppressed, multiple people said he wasn’t telling the truth, 1 person said they tried to use neutral sources, and... no actual suppression either way was confirmed.

This story was a cluttered mess that told us absolutely nothing about what happened inside Facebook, just that one man claimed that stories he liked weren’t being promoted by his coworkers. At absolute best, this should have run with a much more toned down headline.

Immediately, the GOP started using this story, as majorly flawed as it was, to create a persecution narrative.

Read the bold part here.

(Also, linking to outlets that do actual reporting and not just write up something someone else did... that’s not “bias.”)

In August, Facebook fired its entire trending team, replacing it with an algorithm that unleashed absolute chaos on the world, starting with an entirely made-up story about Megyn Kelly being fired shooting to the top of the trend list.

The news was coming from a site called EndingTheFed... If you were on Facebook during the 2016 election, you probably saw one of ETF’s articles (if not the Megyn Kelly story, maybe the one about the pope endorsing Trump?)

Ending The Fed was a blog started by Ovidiu Drobota, a 24-year-old man in Romania (and HUGE fan of Trump). He just made stuff up that he thought would help Trump, tossed it on Facebook, and watched his propaganda work its magic. (Actual fake news)

Okay, okay, okay, I missed a step here. Facebook didn’t just happen to fire its human trending curators. They were pushed to [by the right]. As a result of the backlash to the poorly-sourced Gizmodo blog, Facebook went into absolute panic mode.

And in late May, Mark Zuckerberg met up with a bunch of right-wing personalities, Twitter trolls, propagandists, and even a journalist or two.

The guest list included a Trump campaign advisor (yes, this was in May 2016, very much DURING the campaign), people from the Tea Party Patriots, Tucker Carlson, someone from The Federalist, and then-President of the Heritage Foundation Jim DeMint.

So, one of the (many) results of the newly cozy relationship between these conservative media personalities and Zuckerberg was the firing of human curators, causing chaos.

Now, you may be asking, “Does any of this ACTUALLY matter? So what if I see something on Facebook? Most people are set in their ways anyway.” Well, um... yes, yes it does matter. Turns out 14% of Americans admit having changed their opinion on something because of social media.

And did the trending decision matter? Well... yes. After the switch, false stories started outperforming *actual* news on the site. Look at those final 3 months.

There was a really solid piece by Paul Krugman in late October 2016 about Comey sending out a letter announcing the reopening of the Clinton investigation. It was about working the refs, and how conservatives do it.

We’d later find out that yes, fear of conservative backlash is what motivated Comey to make repeated public announcements about the status of investigations into Clinton while remaining silent on the ***also under investigation*** Trump campaign.

The end of that Krugman column shows the right-wing strategy for what it is:

“Nothing you do convinces them that you’re being fair, because fairness has nothing to do with it. ... Or to put it another way, they’re trying to create bias, not end it.”

And as you can see, conservative sites are doing extremely well on Facebook these days. The top web publisher 3 out of the past 4 months has had a rightward lean, and sites like Breitbart and Daily Wire routinely get more interactions than NPR, the Washington Post, or CBS.

So, that’s obviously put an end to the complaints about supposed anti-conservative bias, right? Lol, no.

They’ve just kept pushing. It doesn’t matter that this claim is completely false. Facebook once accidentally labeled a conservative account “unsafe” before quickly reversing itself. These things happen to people ALL OVER THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM. And yet, despite the fact that there is hard evidence showing that this account was not in any way suppressed, they were invited to testify before Congress about being censored (which they weren’t).

There are mountains of figures that debunk the “anti-conservative bias” claim, and Facebook continues to cave. It was never about eliminating bias. They want bias. They want preferential treatment. Facebook helped hand the 2016 election to Trump. It turned its platform into a pit of misinformation to appease the right. But no matter what, it won’t be enough. It can *never* be enough.

So they keep going at Facebook.
They keep claiming they’re being silenced by Twitter.
They yell about Google search results.
They think that YouTube, a platform that injects extremist far right content into people’s recommendations for no discernible reason, is against them.

Their entire ideology hinges on them being viewed as victims. There will never come a time that they say “Hey, we’ve got it pretty great right now.” Victimhood is a core component of their ideology, which is why a paycheck-to-paycheck guy who makes videos for Vox is being portrayed as the “bully” in a situation where he is simply asking YouTube to enforce their existing rules, the ones that all users agree to. The millionaire slinging slurs with millions of views in the past 3 days and the vocal support of a US Senator: the victim.

When there are people who see being asked to abide by the rules they agreed to as “silencing” or “censorship,” it’s clear that this isn’t about fairness in any way.