Following up on a recurring thread from Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional appearance earlier this month, the House held a hearing today on perceived bias against conservatives on Facebook and other social platforms. The hearing, ostensibly about “how social media companies filter content on their platforms,” focused on the anecdotal accounts of social media stars Diamond and Silk (Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson), a pro-Trump viral web duo that rose to prominence during Trump’s presidential campaign.
“Facebook used one mechanism at a time to diminish reach by restricting our page so that our 1.2 million followers would not see our content, thus silencing our conservative voices,” Diamond and Silk said in their testimony.
“It’s not fair for these Giant Techs [sic] like Facebook and YouTube get to pull the rug from underneath our platform and our feet and put their foot on our neck to silence our voices; it’s not fair for them to put a strong hold on our finances.”
During the course of their testimony, Diamond and Silk repeated their unfounded assertions that Facebook targeted their content as a deliberate act of political censorship.
What followed was mostly a partisan back-and-forth. Republicans who supported the hearing’s mission asked the duo to elaborate on their claims and Democrats pointed out their lack of substantiating evidence and their willingness to denounce documented facts as “fake news.”
Controversially, they also denied that they had accepted payment from the Trump campaign, in spite of public evidence to the contrary. On November 22, 2016, the pair received $1274.94 for “field consulting,” as documented by the FEC.
Earlier in April, Zuckerberg faced a question about the pair’s Facebook page from Republican Rep. Joe Barton:
“Why is Facebook censoring conservative bloggers such as Diamond and Silk? Facebook called them ‘unsafe’ to the community. That is ludicrous. They hold conservative views. That isn’t unsafe.”
At the time, Zuckerberg replied that the perceived censorship was an “enforcement error” and had been in contact with Diamond and Silk to reverse its mistake. Senator Ted Cruz also asked Zuckerberg about what he deemed a “pervasive pattern of bias and political censorship” against conservative voices on the platform.
Today’s hearing, which California Rep. Ted Lieu dismissed as “stupid and ridiculous,” was little more than an exercise in idle hyper-partisanship, but it’s notable for a few reasons. For one, Diamond and Silk are two high profile creators who managed to take their monetization grievances with tech companies, however misguided, all the way to Capitol Hill. Beyond that and the day’s strange role-reversal of regulatory stances, the hearing was the natural escalation of censorship claims made by some Republicans during the Zuckerberg hearings. Remarkably, those accusations only comprised a sliver of the two days’ worth of testimony; in a rare display of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans mostly cooperated in grilling the Facebook CEO on his company’s myriad failures.
Congressional hearing or not, the truth of Facebook’s platform screw-ups is far more universal than political claims on the right or left might suggest. As Zuckerberg’s testimony made clear, Facebook’s moderation tools don’t exactly work as intended and the company doesn’t even really know the half of it. Facebook users have been manipulating the platform’s content reporting tools for years, and unfortunately that phenomenon coupled with Facebook’s algorithmic and moderation blind spots punishes voices on both sides of the U.S. political spectrum and everyone in between.