Big names in conservative media and political circles say they came away from a meeting with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg convinced the giant social network wants to repair its relationship with the right after damaging allegations it steers people away from conservative viewpoints.
“I know many conservatives don’t trust that our platform surfaces content without a political bias. I wanted to hear their concerns personally and have an open conversation about how we can build trust,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post following the meeting held at the company’s Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters.
The perspective in the conservative establishment: Silicon Valley exists in a liberal bubble and that world view has unintentionally seeped into the Facebook platform. Those who attended the meeting say they believe Facebook is serious about addressing the problem.
“From the very top there is a genuine desire to resolve it,” Brent Bozell, president of conservative media watchdog the Media Research Center, said in a statement. “There were good exchanges and overall it was cordial. We’ll see how the investigation turns out. There has been a serious issue of trust within the conservative movement about this issue, but everyone in that room, on both sides, wants to see it restored.”
Kristen Soltis Anderson, the Republican pollster, television personality and writer, told CNN it was a “civil but frank” discussion.
“Most assumed Facebook is not operating in bad faith but wanted to raise the issue on unconscious bias where it can crop up,” she said. “Because Silicon Valley is largely left of center, the folks in the room wanted to convey that it’s important to make sure there’s a culture of respecting viewpoints of all types and preserving Facebook as a free marketplace of ideas.”
Not all conservatives were eager to engage with Facebook. American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp told Fox News he refused the invitation and dismissed the meeting as a publicity stunt. He says Facebook should be transparent about whether conservative viewpoints were suppressed in the “Trending Topics” feature.
“They are not promising transparency,” Schlapp said. “I want to see exactly how they treat conservatives and treat everyone.”
In an email, Facebook said executives received direct feedback on “Trending Topics” feature, the source of last week’s controversy.
Gizmodo reported that Facebook’s news curators suppress conservative articles and news outlets in the feature that highlights the most popular news on Facebook. Facebook has repeatedly denied the allegation, but its image has taken a hit with Republicans.
Republicans’ perceptions of Facebook have declined 68% since the story broke, Recode reported, citing YouGov. And that has put growing pressure on Facebook to repair the damage.
The controversy is coming to the forefront as voters increasingly rely on social media channels for their political news and information. And political candidates now consider Facebook a key message platform on par with television.
A poll by polling firm Morning Consult said Tuesday more than half of registered voters — 55% — get their news from social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. Nearly half, 47%, also said they’re “comfortable” with social media companies determining what news they see on their sites vs. 34% who said they were not comfortable.
Among the 16 people who attended the meeting at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. were conservative radio host and publisher Glenn Beck; Dana Perino, co-host of The Five on Fox News Channel; Zac Moffatt, co-founder of Targeted Victory; Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute; Barry Bennett, former campaign manager for Ben Carson and senior adviser to the Trump campaign; and Jim DeMint, president of the Heritage Foundation.
While at Facebook, they met with Zuckerberg and Facebook executives, asked questions about Trending Topics, got training on how to best engage their audience on Facebook and extend their reach and a demo of virtual reality technology Oculus.
Zuckerberg called Facebook “a platform for all ideas” that prominently features conservative voices.
“Donald Trump has more fans on Facebook than any other presidential candidate,” he wrote in his Facebook post. “And Fox News drives more interactions on its Facebook page than any other news outlet in the world. It’s not even close.”