Much of Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress was focused on the leak of user data, absurd questions about the rise of hate speech on the internet, and Facebook’s role in preventing the spread of “fake news,” at least a few Republicans managed to ask Zuckerberg about something that Democrats would just as soon ignore: the social media giant’s enormous and oft-proven bias against conservative voices.
Sen. Ted Cruz, specifically, did not disappoint when it came his turn to grill the Facebook CEO. Rather than follow his colleagues down the predictable rabbit hole of rehearsed questions and answers, he took this invaluable moment in the spotlight to ask Zuckerberg about Facebook’s status as a political tool and whether or not the CEO considered his website a “neutral public forum.”
“We consider ourselves to be a platform for all ideas” said Zuckerberg.
“Are you a First Amendment speaker expressing your views, or are you a neutral public forum allowing everyone to speak?” asked Cruz.
Zuckerberg, frying under the lights, noted that there were certain things banned from Facebook, including “anything that makes people feel unsafe in the community.”
This answer hit many observers as telling, seeing as how Trump supporters Diamond and Silk were just recently censored and restrained by Facebook. The reason given? Their brand was determined “unsafe for the community.” No further explanation was deemed necessary.
“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,” said Cruz on Tuesday.
It’s doubtful that Congress will be able to do anything about Facebook’s obvious political biases, and there are plenty of good arguments that there is nothing they indeed SHOULD do. Facebook is, after all, a private company, and there is a long history of increased government regulations making things worse rather than better.
On the other hand, as was pointed out quite nicely by Sen. Lindsey Graham, Facebook has what can only be considered a monopoly on its specific social media category, no matter how much Zuckerberg may claim otherwise. This not only gives him (along with Google and Twitter) intense power when it comes to censoring free speech, but an extraordinary amount of leverage against people who must submit to the site’s peering eyes just so they can connect with all of their friends and family members.
How much private power is TOO much? That’s a question that we’re all going to have to wrestle with in the coming years.