Zuckerberg Acknowledges Trust Gap After Meeting on Bias

Facebook Accused of Bias: Are the Criticisms Valid?
  • Conservative attendee sees ‘genuine desire to resolve’ issue
  • Donald Trump, Fox News lead in Facebook popularity, CEO says

Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg met with political conservatives to explain how the social network comes up with its trending news topics, seeking to quell concerns that liberal-leaning news and sources were favored by the company’s editors.

“I know many conservatives don’t trust that our platform surfaces content without a political bias,” he said in a post Wednesday on Facebook. “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.”

Facebook kicked off the meetings by saying they’d made a mistake, which “set the tone,” according to Barry Bennett, a senior adviser to Donald Trump. “It was really quite conciliatory.”

Facebook got feedback on its community standards, trending topics, and ways for conservative groups to make better use of the social network, a company spokeswoman said in a statement. The meeting at its Menlo Park, California, headquarters included a training session on audience engagement, a meeting with Zuckerberg and other executives, an explanation of trending topics and a demonstration of the Oculus virtual-reality technology.

Zuckerberg sought to clear the air after an anonymous source in a Gizmodo report last week alleged that his team of human editors leaned toward liberal sources in selecting stories for the trending news feature. An internal investigation had so far found no evidence of bias. Still, the conservatives invited to the meeting, including talk-show host Glenn Beck, think-tank leader Arthur Brooks and political commentator S.E. Cupp, were aiming to understand better how Facebook presents its news.

“Facebook understands there is a problem,” attendee Brent Bozell, head of the Media Research Center, said in a statement after the meeting. “From the very top there is a genuine desire to resolve it. There were good exchanges and overall it was cordial. We’ll see how the investigation turns out. 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."

The product designers and engineers at Facebook described to attendees how the trending topics algorithms work, saying there’s not much human involvement or opportunity for bias, despite the reports. “That doesn’t mean the algorithms work,” Bennett said.

The balance of conservative and liberal news and thought was “something they weren’t paying close enough attention to,” he said.

Zuckerberg refuted claims that Facebook’s content leans one way or another.

“The reality is, conservatives and Republicans have always been an important part of Facebook,” he said in Wednesday’s post. “Donald Trump has more fans on Facebook than any other presidential candidate. And Fox News drives more interactions on its Facebook page than any other news outlet in the world. It’s not even close.”

In the meeting, conservatives expressed concern over several of Facebook’s methods beyond trending topics, like policies over who can be blocked on the network, according to Dana Perino, a Fox News contributor and former White House press secretary under George W. Bush.

“I found them to be pretty genuine and sincere,” she said on Fox News after the meeting. “They know that they have a lot of work to do.”

Meeting attendees also raised the issue of the ideological diversity of Facebook’s workforce in Silicon Valley, which leans liberal. The company seemed to acknowledge that was a problem, said Tucker Carlson, a conservative commentator, on Fox News Wednesday.

Still, conservatives in the meeting disagreed over how to solve the issue of bias, he said.

“A group of conservatives is as united as the Republican party now -- which is not very,” Carlson said on Fox. And their ideology, which values the right for private enterprises to make independent decisions, limits what they can ask Facebook for. “Conservatives basically don’t believe in the kind of action that would force a group to comply.”

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