House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) questioned Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook’s recent algorithm changes, which preceded a spike in Facebook engagement to mainstream news outlets at the expense of conservative ones, as well as allegations by Barack Obama’s former media analytics director that Facebook granted special favors to their campaign in 2012.
“Getting into this new realm of content review, I know that some of the people who work for Facebook — Campbell Brown for example. ‘This is changing our relationship with publishers and emphasizing something that Facebook has never done before: it’s having a point of view.’”
Scalise also asked Zuckerberg if the people who, according to Zuckerberg, “mistakenly” censored Diamond and Silk on the platform were “held accountable” in any way.
Zuckerberg says the situation only unfolded as he prepared to testify, and he was not able to give details on the incident.
Rep. Scalise then cited a report that showed a “16-point disparity” in Facebook rankings between liberal and conservative publishing outlets following the social network’s recent change to its algorithm, intended to promote “quality news” in the words of Zuckerberg.
Rep. Scalise said the research indicated a “tremendous bias” against conservative news as a result of Facebook’s algorithm change.
Rep. Scalise, a former computer programmer, asked if Facebook had included a “bias” in its new algorithm. He also asked Zuckerberg who developed the algorithm.
Zuckerberg said that Facebook’s goal is to be a “platform for all ideas,” and that there was “absolutely no directive in any of the changes that we make to have a bias in anything that we do.”
Rep. Scalise urged Zuckerberg to “go back and look and determine if there was a bias,” and let Congress know. Scalise said it was “disturbing” to see the kind of disparity that emerged in the wake of Facebook’s algorithm change.
Rep. Scalise then asked Zuckerberg about comments made by Barack Obama’s former media analytics director, Carol Davidsen, who said that Facebook had given the campaign special favors in 2012. This was the first time in two days of hearings that Zuckerberg had been asked about the issue.
During the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Davidsen said that the campaign was able to “suck out the entire social graph” of the U.S. and that Facebook representatives were “very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn’t have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side.”
If true, this could constitute an illegal corporate contribution under federal campaign law, according to a former Federal Election Commission member.
“We didn’t allow the Obama campaign to do anything that any developer on the platform wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do,” said Zuckerberg, confirming that he thought Davidsen’s comments were “inaccurate.”
He did not explain why he thought Davidsen — who oversaw Obama’s data operation in 2012 — could have got it wrong.