Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg dismissed the suggestion by several Republican lawmakers on Wednesday that the social media network is biased against conservative content — but admitted he is worried about the issue of censorship on the platform in general.
“This is one of the areas that, frankly, I’m worried we’re not doing a good job at right now,” Zuckerberg said in his testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “The principle that we’re a platform for all ideas is something I care very deeply about. I am worried about bias … and I agree that this is a serious issue.”
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., cited the recent example of Facebook rejecting a Catholic university’s ad showing Jesus on the cross, which outraged some religious conservatives. The company apologized and subsequently accepted the image.
“That it happened at all is deeply disturbing,” she told Zuckerberg. “Could you tell what was so shocking, sensational or excessively violent about the ad to cause it to be initially censored?”
“It sounds like we made a mistake there, and I apologize for that,” Zuckerberg replied. “With the amount of content in our systems and the current systems that we have in place to review — we make a relatively small percent of mistakes in content review, but that’s too many. And this is an area where we need to improve.”
Zuckerberg continued: “I wouldn’t extrapolate from a few examples to assuming that the overall system is biased. I get how people can look at that and draw that conclusion, but I don’t think that reflects the way we’re trying to build this system or what we have seen.”
The 33-year-old executive said that while the complaints cited by the panel were about conservative content, he hears from both sides.
“I can assure you that there are a lot of folks who think we make content moderation mistakes — and content review mistakes — of liberal content as well,” Zuckerberg said.
Appearing before the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committee on Tuesday, Zuckerberg faced pointed questions from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, about Facebook’s perceived liberal bias.
“Does Facebook consider itself to be a neutral public forum?” Cruz asked. “It’s just a simple question. … Do you consider yourself a neutral public forum? Or are you engaged in political speech, which is your right under the First Amendment?”
“Our goal is not to engage in political speech,” Zuckerberg replied.
Cruz said that “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.” Cruz noted that Diamond and Silk, sisters who have become famous for their pro-Trump videos, recently said that their Facebook page was blocked after the site determined it to be “unsafe to the community.”
On Wednesday, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, told Zuckerberg that he has received several questions from constituents about the duo on his own Facebook page.
“Please ask Mr. Zuckerberg why is Facebook biased against conservative bloggers such as Diamond and Silk? Facebook called them ‘unsafe’ to the community,” Barton said, reading one message from his phone aloud. “That is ludicrous. They hold conservative views. That isn’t unsafe.”
“In that specific case, our team made an enforcement error,” Zuckerberg replied. “And we have already gotten in touch with them to reverse it.”
Zuckerberg’s appearances before the congressional panels come in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which exposed personal information from as many as 87 million Facebook users. Cambridge Analytica, a data mining firm used by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, was able to access user data through a third-party quiz app.
Rep. Billy Long, R-La., said his constituents are not concerned about the data breach — but are worried about censorship.
“I represent 751,000 people,” Long said. “I’m not getting the outcry from my constituents about what’s going on with Cambridge Analytica.”
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