Facebook, under attack for choosing “trending” stories, should embrace the 1st Amendment

On Access by Peter ScheerPETER SCHEER—Facebook wants you, me and the federal government to believe that the selection and prominence of content on Facebook, particularly in its “trending stories” feature, has nothing to do with human judgment or choice.

This has long been Facebook’s public posture, and it was its initial knee-jerk response this week to a news story, appearing in Gizmodo, that was sourced to anonymous, and apparently disaffected, contractors hired by Facebook to monitor the selection of news items identified on Facebook as “trending.”

The story, claiming that the contractors spiked “conservative” news stories while overriding the company’s algorithms to insert “liberal” items in the feed, soon got the attention of Republican members of Congress (who, plainly, have way too much time on their hands).

By Tuesday, Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota and chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, fired off a letter to Facebook demanding to know  “if there’s any level of subjectivity associated with” Facebook’s trending news stories. Facebook responded, defensively, that it was “continuing to investigate whether” there were “any violations” of its neutrality policy and that it looked forward to addressing the Senator’s  questions.

Facebook is about to make a big mistake.

Rather than disclaim charges of human fingerprints on stories that it publishes or links to, it should defend vigorously its right to include in its “trending” section any news stories it chooses. While disputing the critique that its story choices skew left, it should make loud and clear its claim of exclusive authority to decide whether, where, how and when to publish content.

As a first step, Facebook should tell Congress, as diplomatically as it wishes, to f**k off.

Congress has no more power to inquire into Facebook’s decision-making in this area than to second-guess the editorial judgments of the New York Times or Congress can kick and scream all it wants (free speech being a two-way street), but it can’t interrogate Facebook, much less dictate its own editorial preferences. The First Amendment vests all editorial authority in Facebook.

Facebook wants to be everybody’s friend. Like other highly successful tech companies, it is, by instinct and culture, averse to acknowledging a human or subjective dimension to the choices behind the content that its users see. That stance has served Facebook  well through its long run of exponential growth. But its success now threatens competitors, who have tapped their to Washington lawyers and lobbyists to put Facebook in regulators’ sights.

Facebook’s nightmare scenario: To have the government treat it as a public utility to be circumscribed and defanged, rather than as a high-tech innovator to be feted and encouraged. Sound familiar? Think Microsoft in 1998, when the Justice Department, lobbied by the company’s competitors in Silicon Valley, was persuaded of the urgent need to use the antitrust laws to deflate Microsoft’s lofty ambitions.

Facebook faces a similar inflection point.

To avoid the death by a thousand regulatory lashes that was Microsoft’s fate for nearly two decades, Facebook should embrace the protections of the First Amendment. Facebook is not an empty platform to be filled by others. It is a community, a “social network,” that is rich in third-party content. And, crucially, that third-party content is curated by Facebook.

Whether the curatorial function is performed by computers or editors in a smoke-filled newsroom doesn’t matter. The point is that Facebook is making editorial choices; ergo, Facebook enjoys the highest degree of First Amendment protection.

Peter Scheer, a lawyer and journalist, is executive director of FAC. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the position of FAC’s Board of Directors.


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5 thoughts on “Facebook, under attack for choosing “trending” stories, should embrace the 1st Amendment

  1. True enough. But you miss the point entirely, Mr. Sheer. The issue is fraud. “Trending” implies “not touched by human hands” to everyone on the planet except the totally computer illiterate. It’s an issue of truthfulness.

  2. Right on. Even the government has a right to promote its own political positions, insofar as it is elected to do precisely that–just as long as they are religion, race, and gender-bender blind.
    Go google “government speech doctrine.”

  3. Facebook, of course, has the right to do what they want. The controversy stems from Facebook having claimed their trending news was reflective of what was actually trending, and not otherwise curated. That appears to be not the case.

  4. Maybe you weren’t aware of the fact that if you’re blocked on Facebook you’re also blocked from using the comment function on websites totally unrelated to Facebook. Even when you leave the “Post to Facebook” box unchecked. This is pure and unadulterated CENSORSHIP!

    Facebook is not only notoriously anti-Israel, they routinely and arbitrarily block comments for “offensive” content without even checking the context. They also block you on behalf of those who have been “offended” by your comments. You aren’t even allowed to see exactly what “offensive” comments you’ve made or even “face your accusers”. Facebook’s “Community Standards” policy is just another form of Thought Control. If you want a glimpse of what Big Brother’s big brother looks like……think about how you are now almost paranoid about what words you use on Facebook.

    Go take a look at their “reasons why you were blocked”. It’s like a page out of Orwell’s book 1984. The fascist enemy of free speech, Zuckerberg, tries to put a happy face on his turning Fakebook into his own private Thought Control. With Fakebook Kapos monitoring your comments. I’m now blocked for a month for saying exactly what I think about illegal aliens. According to his fascist “Community Standards” I exhibited certain “behavior” not in keeping with his “progressive” terrorist supporting open borders agenda.

    The Facebook experiment: Do all lives matter?
    The Israel Project recently posted a video experiment to test Facebook political bias, produced by an NGO called the Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center. On December 28, 2015, two Facebook pages inciting violence were created with exactly the same content except that one was anti-Palestinian and the other anti-Jewish. Watch the video to see how Facebook, run by leftist Mark Zuckerberg (who recently vowed to make Facebook a “safe space” for Muslims), responded.

    Prissy Holly: Exposing (Facebook Fascist) Mark Fuckerberg and a direct Message for the Rape-ugees in Europe. Apparently Facebook Fascist Zuckerberg has got this “Initiative for Civil Courage” and working directly with Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel to silence Europeans who speak out about the rape epidemic perpetrated by Muslim Rape-ugees.

    THE $50 BILLION HYPOCRITE: Mark Zuckerberg’s destructive stance on immigration and refugee policy.

    Germany: Migrant Rape Crisis Worsens by Soeren Kern.

    Fox BusinessLike Page: “Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that other lives don’t.”
    Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg sent out a memo to his employees reprimanding them for crossing out “black lives matter” and changing it to “all lives matter” on their office board. What do you think of Zuckerberg’s response.

    Former Facebook Workers: We Routinely Suppressed Conservative News by Michael Nunez 5-9-16

    Want to Know What Facebook Really Thinks of Journalists? Here’s What Happened When It Hired Some by Michael Nunez.

    Facebook’s War on Freedom of Speech by Douglas Murray (Gatestone Institute.

    My friend was banned and his post removed for this “Inappropriate Content”. He describes the horror of the Holocaust. And what it means to be a Jew “We Removed Content You Posted”.
    Our dear friend and brother, our defender, Ran Shirdan is banned from Facebook because of the following post. What do you think?

    What you can do to stop the blocking of jihad news on Facebook
    FEB. 7, 2016  BY MARC

    REVEALED: Facebook’s new plan to CENSOR “right wing hate speech” — but not ISIS recruiters by Ezra Levant 1-22-16
    Are you worried about more Muslim rape sprees taking place? From now on, when you try to type about it, Facebook will block you.

    Facebook Censors Michael Savage Post of Muslims Protesting (WND)
    Facebook has not explained why it deleted the post, but it provided a link to its “Community Standards” page, which lists “hate speech” as one of its prohibitions, along with “violence and graphic content,” and nudity.

    IT’S OFFICIAL- Zuckerberg Goes Full STASI Against Facebook Users That Criticise Islam by Andrew Bieszad 12-18-15
    Sound familiar? The “Ask us why?” “link” and “Community (Communist) Standards” page.

    Islam Uncovered: An Open Letter from a Former Muslim To Mr Mark Zuckerberg From Brother Rachid
    Mr Mark Zuckerberg said that he welcomes Muslims to Facebook, and that he will defend their rights, but he ignored the problematic doctrines in Islam; like hatred toward Jews and Christians. Welcoming Muslims does not mean we should not discuss their religion. This letter is to challenge Mr Zuckerberg to show both sides of the coin. Quran 5:51, 9:30, 5:82, 2:65, and 2:61, 3:112 & 5:82 the basis for Jew Hatred—Sahih Bukhair Book 26 No. 5389, Sahih Muslim Book 4 No. 1081

    Facebook Is Blocking an Upstart Social Network. Should We Be Worried? By Klint Finley 11-12-15

    New Facebook Dislike Button Will Delete Posts With 10 Dislikes by Bryan Gogol Sept. 2015

    Pro-Israel Article by French Philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy Returns to Facebook After Disappearing (UPDATE)

    This video is on Facebook. Look at the bottom left-hand corner.
    Young Arab men asked what they would do to Jews

    The Social Media Intifada: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube Used Extensively for Promoting Violence Against Israelis by Ruthie Blum.

    ARFA: Why Facebook Banned Satire of Palestinian Propaganda

    Facebook and in Bed with Genocidal Jew-Haters? By Steve Bronfman

    Facebook Blocks, Censors Schlussel @ Request of Polish, Muslim Jew-Haters; HOW YOU CAN HELP By Debbie Schlussel

    Jew Haters Welcome At Facebook, As Long As They Aren’t Lactating by Michael Arrington (@arrington)

    Facebook Page Publishing Identities of French Jews to Encourage Attackers; 15 Men Assault a Jew in Paris Suburb After Confirming Photo (UPDATE) by Joshua Levitt

    Israeli Group to Accuse Mark Zuckerberg of ‘Closing Eyes to Facebook Terror Incitement’ in Massive Billboards Across From His California Home (VIDEO) by Ruthie Blum.

    Mark Zuckerberg December 9, 2015 · Palo Alto
    Sick video supporting Muslims after terrorist attack.

    Zuckerberg dont kill us עוצרים את ההסתה בפייסבוק עכשיו!
    (You Tube Video)

  5. Facebook is free to use any trending method they would like. However, to preserve their credibility, Facebook should disclose that their story selections come from an algorithm based only on “certain” sources. If they wanted to be a true indicator they could expand their sources to be more diverse. Just depends on what kind of “news” provider they want to be.

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