There’s a lot of pearl clutching on the political right this week, so much so you’d be hard-pressed to differentiate it from the constant pearl clutching on the left. Facebook, it is alleged, “censors” conservative news. But does it really? And does it matter?
There are not many people in the United States younger than 50 who don’t have a Facebook account. Exactly none of them were forced to open one. When they did they accepted the fact that they were playing in someone else’s backyard.
Facebook owes the government no justification as to how it conducts its business as long as it is legal. And no one is alleging Facebook’s supposed activity is illegal. Unseemly, yes, but not against the law. It owes users even less.
Facebook, of course, denies the allegations. But what does it matter, and who cares if it is true? If you thought Facebook, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg backing and funding left-wing causes, was neutral ground, you’ve been lying to yourself. That’s not Facebook’s fault; that’s yours.
Facebook is accused of manipulating its “trending” section, which purports to show which stories are being talked about most on the social network. Frankly, I didn’t even know it was there until this story broke.
It’s small, underneath many other things and contains nothing to catch the eye of a user. To be honest, in a page full of pictures, videos, and names of people you know, it’s boring.
Sure, some people click the links. But this doesn’t drive conversations or affect the zeitgeist, and anyone who thinks otherwise is according Facebook way too much power.
And even then, so what? Facebook is not your website. You’re playing on someone else’s property. That Facebook lets you do so free of charge does not obligate it to you. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
When you set up your account you voluntarily surrendered a lot of personal information and clicked “OK” to a user agreement we all know you didn’t read. That personal information, coupled with every post you or your friends make and every link you click on feeds Facebook more information about you than your friends probably have on you.
Facebook uses that information you’ve voluntarily turned over to target paid ads to you. That’s the deal; the price of “free.” We all know it, we all accept it. Why should anything on the section of that page it reserves for itself be any different?
The “trending” section isn’t ads; it’s news. But there’s really no difference. They choose which ads you see and the companies from which they accept ads. If they decide they’ll accept ads only from Super PACs supporting Hillary Clinton, that’s all you’ll see. You can choose not to click on them, but it’s up to Facebook whether you see them because you're playing in their backyard where they set the rules.
So why get upset a liberal company in a liberal industry headed by a liberal might have a liberal bias? It’s like being surprised water is wet.
That Facebook denies it doesn’t make it untrue. But it’s not malicious either way. A liberal bias conforms with the world view of the people charged with populating the section, just like a conservative bias colors the world view of many of the websites you most likely visit. It’s unclear why Facebook was expected to be immune from what infects everyone else.
Many conservatives have feigned outrage over this revelation, crying as though they have some infringed-upon right to something they don’t – equal access to someone else’s property.
To quell the storm, Zuckerberg has convened a meeting with conservatives, most of whom have nothing to do with journalism. Radio hosts, TV pundits, campaigns – the loudest voices of a pearl-clutching chorus demanding redress of their supposed grievances – got their audience. But they’re not aggrieved. They’re just seeking attention. Which was why they clutched their pearls in the first place.
Having self-appointed representatives of conservatism elevating themselves to a status demanding a meeting was bad enough, but when Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., started demanding answers, that crossed the line. Both groups are acting like progressives, using indignation as a weapon.
Facebook owes you nothing, and you owe nothing to Facebook. If your only or main source of news is an obscure feature on a social media website, you deserve the perverted worldview you get – just like if you get your news only from conservative or liberal sources. Rather than expressing anger that an obscure section of a social media website might not have been giving you an unvarnished view of the world, maybe you should ask yourself why you're expecting to find it there in the first place.