By Nick Clegg, VP of Global Affairs and Communications
Facebook gives everyone a voice, no matter what your political views may be, which candidates or parties you support, or which causes you advocate. So we take accusations of political bias made against us extremely seriously. Our policies, and how we apply them, can have a huge impact, so we have a responsibility to apply them evenly, without favoring one side or another and without devaluing the principle of free expression.
As announced last year, we asked an outside party – former Senator Jon Kyl, a respected Republican – to conduct a review of potential anti-conservative bias at Facebook. Former Senator Kyl and his team at the law firm Covington and Burling met with more than 130 leading conservative politicians and organizations and produced a report that outlines the concerns they heard raised about our policies and how we carry them out. This morning, Senator Kyl also published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal summarizing his findings.
While the issue of alleged anti-conservative bias has been in the headlines in recent weeks, this report has been long in the making.
We know we need to take these concerns seriously and adjust course if our policies are in fact limiting expression in an unintended way. The report highlights the changes Facebook has already made to address some of them. These include making our decisions more transparent by providing more information on why people are seeing specific posts on News Feed; ensuring Page managers can see when enforcement action takes place; launching an appeals process; and creating a new Oversight Board for content, made up of people with a diverse range of ideological views. It also recognizes changes we made earlier this year to our advertising policies around the labelling of ads about social issues, elections or politics, and to our policy on banning images of patients with medical tubes, which has been applied unevenly in the past.
This is the first stage of an ongoing process and Senator Kyl and his team will report again in a few months’ time.
This work is not an issue of personal political opinion. As at any large company, there is a diversity of political opinions at Facebook and plenty of people who would not describe themselves as conservatives. My own long-held political views have been a subject of public record for years. But regardless of one’s own political views, this is about whether we apply our own policies fairly to all sides, and whether those policies begin with an understanding of how core groups of users express their beliefs.
While we err on the side of free speech, there are critical exceptions: we don’t allow content that might encourage offline harm or is intended to intimidate, exclude or silence people. And we work to slow and reduce the spread of content like debunked hoaxes and clickbait by downranking it in News Feed. We know we need to listen more as we work to strike the right balance with these policies.
But even if we could craft them in a way that pleased all sides, when dealing with such nuanced issues, involving policies that apply to billions of posts, we will inevitably make some bad calls, some of which may appear to strike harder at conservatives. That’s why it is so important that we work to make sure this process is free of bias, intended or not. After all, we can say that we welcome political expression on our platform all we want, but it won’t mean much unless people trust that we craft and apply our rules fairly.
I would like to express my gratitude to Senator Kyl and his team for all the work they have done so far on this crucial, if sensitive, issue – and I look forward to working with him and with colleagues across Facebook to continue to examine, and where necessary adjust, our own policies and practices in the future.