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Facebook Report on Bias Overlooks Looming Threats of Speech Regulation

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Facebook today released an interim report by former U.S. Senator John Kyl (R-AZ) examining claims by some conservatives of political bias on the part of the social media giant. The report does not attempt to lay out proof that such bias either does or does not exist. Instead, it reviews some of the concerns raised by conservatives and considers whether those problems stem from misunderstandings or political bias.

CEI Vice President for Policy Wayne Crews said:

“The best parts of the Kyl report are separate from the bias issue it was commissioned to address: the valuable assurances of transparency from Facebook, the continued development of tools to clarify why users see what they do on the platform, and amplified attention to improperly labeling content ‘political’ when that designation could threaten a nonprofit’s tax-exempt status.

“However, the report errs when it claims ‘Facebook’s policies and their application have the potential to restrict free expression.’ As a private entity, Facebook cannot censor or threaten ‘free expression,’ as that is a civil right under the First Amendment, which exists to restrain government from trampling such rights. The real threat to free expression is calls from Facebook and political actors and commentators on the left and right for government regulation of speech on social media platforms. Inviting government to regulate political speech is where censorship as a genuine threat raises its ugly head.”

Associate Director of CEI’s Center for Technology and Innovation Jessica Melugin said:

“It would seem that market forces are hard at work addressing the concerns of some Facebook users. This report should make those claiming the social platform is somehow immune from the same incentives consumers count on to cater to their needs, spur innovation and correct flaws in countless other industries think twice. But if proposed regulations are actually about bureaucrats seizing evermore control of private industry and politicians grandstanding for votes, then these findings and changes will fall on deaf ears in Washington.”

CEI Research Fellow Patrick Hedger said:

“Facebook just put itself under the microscope and asked a prominent third-party to investigate it for practices that aren’t even remotely illegal. Conservatives ought to ask themselves when, if ever, we’ve enjoyed that level of accountability from the government before asking it to intervene in the tech sector.

“This is more proof that the tech sector isn’t so different from the rest of the economy after all: companies want to keep consumers happy. Market incentives exist for self-regulation and third-party certification.”

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