Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday held a wide-ranging discussion with a group of conservative commentators who said afterward the Facebook CEO acknowledged the giant social network has a problem reaching conservatives.
The meeting at Facebook’s Menlo Park, California, headquarters came about after a report accused the company of harboring a bias against conservative views.
S.E. Cupp, a columnist with the New York Daily News who attended the meeting, said Facebook executives “were very clear to acknowledge that there is a problem and the problem is a serious one.”
Facebook wants to restore the “trust” of conservatives
Cupp said Zuckerberg, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Vice President Joel Kaplan and board member Peter Thiel mostly listened to the 17 conservatives who attended.
While the Facebook executives did not comment further on an internal investigation into allegations of political manipulation, they explained how difficult it would be for Facebook employees to inject bias into what stories make it into the “trending topics” section of the site or on individual users’ news feeds, Cupp said.
The Facebook team also said any such tampering would be “philosophically against both the mission of the company and Mark’s personal mission,” Cupp said. “I believed them.”
Rob Bluey, editor in chief of the website The Daily Signal, made similar comments to Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren shortly after the meeting ended.
“They certainly acknowledged that there was a problem with getting the message out to conservatives,” he said.
Here’s Barry Bennet, one of Donald Trump’s campaign aides:
Great meeting & first step at Facebook today. Facebook is committed to being an open platform for all political views. More work to be done!
— Barry Bennett (@BBennett152) May 19, 2016
Among others in attendance, according to Facebook, was radio host Glenn Beck, American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks, Tea Party Patriots CEO Jenny Beth Martin and Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center.
Bozell said in a statement afterward that the meeting was “very productive.”
“There has been a serious issue of trust within the conservative movement about this issue, but everyone in that room, on both sides, wants to see it restored,” he said.
The meetings were “productive,” Brooks said. “I hope that this is the beginning of serious efforts to combat the risk of systemic bias. Facebook has a tremendous opportunity to out-innovate old media models and win over customers who are hungry for ways to separate the signal from the noise. That won’t happen if new media falls victim to the same traps that have damaged the reputation of the traditional press.”
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone confirmed that was the tenor of the meeting.
“We’ve built Facebook to be a platform for all ideas.”
In a Facebook post afterward, Zuckerberg did not directly respond to allegations that Facebook employees suppressed conservative stories on its “trending topics” feature. But he said, “I know many conservatives don’t trust that our platform surfaces content without a political bias.”
“I wanted to hear their concerns personally and have an open conversation about how we can build trust. I want to do everything I can to make sure our teams uphold the integrity of our products,” he wrote.
The CEO also played up the prominence of Facebook’s conservative audience. “The reality is, conservatives and Republicans have always been an important part of Facebook. Donald Trump has more fans on Facebook than any other presidential candidate,” he wrote. “And Fox News drives more interactions on its Facebook page than any other news outlet in the world. It’s not even close.”
Here’s Zuck’s full post:
Zuckerberg invited the group after the tech news site Gizmodo claimed that Facebook downplays conservative news subjects on its trending feature. Facebook denied the report, which relied upon a single anonymous individual with self-described conservative leanings. The company said it is investigating the matter.
Cupp said the viewpoints of the conservatives and the Facebook executives were aligned on issues such as data security, privacy, deregulation and free markets.
“We have a lot more in common than public perception would have you believe,” she said.
Facebook’s trending topics are most visible on the desktop version of the social network, although it is possible to access them on mobile too.
On browsers, the topics appear on the top right corner, separate from the news feed containing updates from your friends and family. On mobile devices, users can tap on the search bar to see the top trends, but they can’t see separate categories.
Topics that appear as trending can have a self-fulfilling effect, as more Facebook readers see and share the items, and other news organisations decide to write their own stories.
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