Facebook's Weird Pointless Auditless Audit Of Political Bias On Its Platform

from the but-why? dept

Facebook has continued to do the most Facebooky of Facebook things. Faced with almost entirely baseless claims of “anti-conservative bias” in how it moderates content, Facebook claimed to be doing something useful: bringing in a big outside law firm with big name partners (lead by former Republican Senator Jon Kyl) to analyze those claims. In response, they published… a whole lot of nothing. Kyl released an 8 page report that nearly anyone could have written (at much lower hourly rates, I’m sure). In it, it details areas that 133 different conservative users expressed concerns about how Facebook’s platform operates.

But the report does literally nothing to say (or better yet, show) whether or not those concerns are valid. It just lists them out. Yes, the “conservatives” interviewed were “concerned” that hate speech designations might disproportionately impact them. Duh. But did it? The report doesn’t say. Even more importantly, did such designations lead to disparate treatment for analogous behavior? Again, the report fails to say. it just lists out what “concerns” were raised. Which is about as totally fucking useless as you can imagine. In short, it’s Facebook’s standard operating procedure.

And, of course, this was announced in a meaningless way by former UK politician Nick Clegg, who is now Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs and Communications. Seriously, read this blog post and tell me what useful information you can glean from it. It’s nothing. It’s nine paragraphs of “if we’re doing something biased, we’ll try to fix it, but we’re still studying if we are.” This is the weakest sauce from a company that only seems to know how to make weak sauce.

Not surprisingly, no one’s happy about it. Conservatives hate it because it doesn’t say that Facebook is biased against them. Liberals are annoyed because it doesn’t say that the claims of bias are nonsense. That’s why the whole thing is not just useless, but literally counterproductive. By simply stating the concerns, but making no effort to say whether or not they’re accurate, this is like the worst kind of “view from nowhere” reporting. He says this. She says that. Which one is right? Who can tell?

Facebook is bending so far over backwards not to upset either side of the traditional political aisle that it’s pissing off everyone. Just suck it up, do a real study, and show what the results actually say. Chances are they’ll show absolutely no evidence of legitimate “anti-conservative bias,” because to date, no credible studies have found any such evidence. But if the study did find something that would be useful to know. Instead, it releases this garbage.

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Comments on “Facebook's Weird Pointless Auditless Audit Of Political Bias On Its Platform”

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36 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

'... how many zeroes is that?'

So they ended up paying a law firm in order to write up a ‘report’ that tells them what they and everyone else already knew, that some conservatives worry that there might be anti-conservative bias on the platform. Sounds like they should have sprung for the deluxe report, wherein the investigators could have told them what color the sky is and whether or not water is wet.

I can only hope that they ended up paying dearly for that useless pile of documents, as stupidity that severe really should be painful.

hij (profile) says:

Putting money where the mouths are

It may help in one way, though. By giving money away to conservatives it will create a conflict of interest. As more money goes into their pockets these same conservatives now have a reason to stay away from the fake conspiracy talk somewhat. At least a little bit, since having some of the controversy blowing around seems to benefit these folks.

For all the good reasons not to use Facebook, some folks seem to go to a lot of trouble to make up false reasons.

Anonymous Coward says:

I find it laughable that this leftist rag keeps denying there’s no conservative BIAS when it’s as clear as day.

It’s like Code Pink protesting Bush for dropping bombs. Where were they when OBAMA dropped a bunch more and killing innocent people? Crickets. Yet No BIAS their ether. No nothing to look at here, they were treated equally. It’s beyond laughable.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

there’s no conservative BIAS when it’s as clear as day

If the bias is “as clear as day”, then surely you can point to examples of…

  • conservatives being punished for expressing ideas and opinions and values linked specifically to conservatism
  • for saying “I’m conservative”
  • for saying things that would force a platform to punish anyone but doesn’t result in a punishment for liberals/progressives/leftists

…and any relevant statistics that prove your claim.

And a brief reminder: Anecdotal experience is not empirical evidence.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I find it laughable that this leftist rag keeps denying there’s no conservative BIAS when it’s as clear as day.

Do you also find it laughable that your complaining gets flagged by the community every time you post your nonsense? Because that’s probably what’s happening on social media.

People are tired of you whiny little complainers bitching and moaning about constantly being the victim of something.

Put on your big boy pants and take a Midol already.

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

First, what’s “clear as day” to you may be clear as mud to others. Also, not everyone has seen the same evidence you have. If you have any clear evidence of anti-conservative bias, please share it with the rest of us. We’re all waiting patiently.

Second, of all the articles to criticize for failing to see this “obvious” anti-conservative bias, this is a strange choice. This is basically the one article that doesn’t express particularly clear skepticism of the idea, and either way, it plays no role in what the point of the article is.

In case you haven’t read it, it says that Facebook’s “audit”, rather than drawing any conclusions or providing any new evidence, merely lists evidence we already knew: there are conservatives complaining that Facebook has or may have an anti-conservative bias that allegedly plays a role in various decisions like who gets banned. As noted in the article, this complete lack of… anything substantial upsets conservatives hoping for an admission of guilt, liberals hoping for a denial, and others wanting some additional clarity on the subject one way or the other. If you consider it leftist to acknowledge that not everyone agrees on whether or not Facebook’s decisions actually show an anti-conservative bias, and that this result satisfies no one and upsets pretty much everyone following the subject, then frankly you have no idea what “leftist” actually means.

PaulT (profile) says:

Again, context

"Yes, the "conservatives" interviewed were "concerned" that hate speech designations might disproportionately impact them. Duh. But did it?"

More importantly – if it did, then why? If there’s more hate speech on the right, and more on the right are impacted as a result, that’s exactly the right outcome. It’s only a problem if hate speech aligned elsewhere politically is ignored, or if non-hate speech is falsely labelled.

It may well be that more people on the right are being treated as hateful, but if that treatment is justified, it’s not Facebook that’s the problem. This is the point that keep getting missed by the people whining – yes, it’s unfortunate that your shop gets raided more than anybody else’s after a burglary is reported, but that’s where all the stolen goods are…

"this was announced in a meaningless way by former UK politician Nick Clegg, who is now Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs and Communications"

Oh, that explains some of it. You’re not going to get anything with teeth if it’s led by the guy who sold his party’s principles out to the Tories, giving them a "coalition" where they seemed to pay no heed to anything the Lib Dems did once they go the seat, and with the installment of Cameron above him led inevitably to the current mess we’re in.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Epstein’s white paper was not peer-reviewed and was challenged by other researchers. Among the criticisms was that a small sample size was used to extrapolate conclusions about a population of millions and the lack of disclosure of the underlying methodology.

Perhaps Google should ask to see his algorithms. Just to make sure he’s not biased, you know?

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

As mentioned by Mike and an AC, that study is full of problems, including lack of peer review, a small sample size, and failure to disclose the underlying methodology. The first means that no one had a chance to check it before it was publicized, the second means that it a) isn’t likely to be representative and b) has a very large margin for error, rendering it meaningless, and the third means that there’s no way of knowing if the sampling methodology used to select what is tested was biased among other things.

Plus, even if it shows how FB can influence the vote, it offers no evidence that it does or in what manner. At best, it may show that Google has anti-conservative bias, and that similar methods could lead to Facebook affecting the kind of information users receive in a biased manner. Given that this article is about the specific allegations that FB has an anti-conservative bias, that isn’t enough to prove those particular allegations, making it pretty irrelevant.

As for the thing about vaccines and autism, aside from the fact that that is a PRATT based on one study hat was discredited and retracted years ago due to numerous ethical issues, problematic methodology, small sample size, and clear bias and conflicts of interest on the part of the researcher, who has since lost his medical license, you’re right that it’s better to save that for a medical site, or at the very least, an article that is actually about vaccines and/or autism. This leads to a couple of important questions: why the hell would you even bring that up in the comments section on an article about anti-conservative bias on Facebook, and why bring it up at all if you have no intention of saying anything about it?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"costing millions of dollars and consuming the nation for more than a year, while objectively producing nothing of value"

You might want to get your head out of whatever echo chamber you usually frequent and check some objective facts. The investigation produced multiple convictions, and thanks to the Manafort evidence actually turned a profit.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Duh? Really?

In view of the increasing prevalence of antisemitism on the left

Citation for that?

adding "Duh," after the sentence "Yes, the "conservatives" interviewed were "concerned" that hate speech designations might disproportionately impact them," seems to be an expression of anti-conservative bias here at Techdirt.

"Duh" meaning "anyone paying any attention at all knows conservatives have been complaining about anti-conservative bias". So if it’s biased, it’s against ignorance.

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