‘Get Breitbart out of News Tab’: Facebook employees ‘tried to suppress conservative news outlets’
Facebook employees complained about Breitbart being included in their news tab, according to internal messages released by a whistleblower.
The complaints arose amid the George Floyd protests, in June 2020.
Breitbart, a conservative website which used to be run by Donald Trump‘s chief strategist Steve Bannon, was particularly focused on the damage caused by rioters and their headlines suggested taking a hardline approach to the protests.
The employee shared headlines from Breitbart such as: ‘Minneapolis Mayhem: Riots in Masks,’ ‘Massive Looting, Buildings in Flames, Bonfires!’ and ‘BLM Protesters Pummel Police Cars on 101.’
Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, is under intense pressure to explain the company’s policies on hate speech and their publishing of material
Facebook’s headquarters are seen in Menlo Park, California
A person is seen reading the Breitbart website on their phone. The conservative news website remains controversial
The employee said the headlines were ’emblematic of a concerted effort at Breitbart and similarly hyperpartisan sources (none of which belong in News Tab) to paint Black Americans and Black-led movements in a very negative way.’
Facebook’s concern about Breitbart was not new.
In 2018, one employee working on the Facebook Audience Network, for whom Facebook sells advertising, argued that Facebook should drop Breitbart from the network.
‘My argument is that allowing Breitbart to monetize through us is, in fact, a political statement,’ the person wrote in an internal memo.
‘It’s an acceptance of extreme, hateful and often false news used to propagate fear, racism and bigotry.’
Yet senior Facebook figures, concerned at accusations of bias, were reluctant to act against Breitbart.
In 2020 a member of Facebook’s integrity team, which tries to stop harmful behavior on the site, said that Breitbart was hindering efforts to fight hate speech.
‘We make special exceptions to our written policies for them, and we even explicitly endorse them by including them as trusted partners in our core products,’ the employee claimed.
When Breitbart was singled out for its approach to the George Floyd protests, an employee remarked that Facebook’s leaders would struggle to clamp down on Breitbart, through fear of being called biased.
Facebook employees were concerned in June 2020 with the way Breitbart was reporting on the George Floyd protests
Facebook employees said that Breitbart was demonizing the protesters angered by George Floyd’s murder
‘At best, it would be a very difficult policy discussion,’ the researcher said.
After a staffer asked about removing Breitbart, a senior researcher responded by defending the controversial site, stating: ‘I can also tell you that we saw drops in trust in CNN 2 years ago: would we take the same approach for them too?’
Another employee in a different discussion said that the far-right website was being granted a pass from Facebook’s usual rules about journalistic standards, saying of Breitbart: ‘We’re scared of political backlash if we enforce our policies without exemptions.’
Facebook told The Wall Street Journal – which has been publishing a series of articles about the internal workings of the Silicon Valley firm – that it enforces its rules equally and politics do not play a part in its decision making.
‘We make changes to reduce problematic or low-quality content to improve people’s experiences on the platform, not because of a page’s political point of view,’ said Facebook spokesman Andy Stone.
‘When it comes to changes that will impact public pages like publishers, of course we analyze the effect of the proposed change before we make it.’
Facebook has long been accused of being biased against conservatives – claims that have been heightened since Trump was banned from the platform earlier this year, after he was found to have violated Facebook’s rule against inciting violence.
Facebook said that Trump’s remarks around the January 6 riots were dangerous and should not be shared on the platform.
On Friday a new whistleblower affidavit submitted by a former Facebook employee accused the social media giant of prioritizing profits over their due diligence to combat hate speech, misinformation and other threats to the public.
The new allegations, submitted anonymously under penalty of perjury, echoed the claims made by fellow whistleblower Frances Haugen, who delivered a scathing testimony before Congress earlier this month on Facebook’s moral failings.
The new allegations come after whistleblower Frances Haugen, pictured, testified before Congress earlier this month over Facebook’s failings
The anonymous whistleblower accused one of Facebook’s top communication officials, Tucker Bounds, pictured, of brushing aside an employee’s concern of misinformation
In the most dramatic line of the affidavit, the former employee anguished over Facebook’s inability to act quickly to help curb racial killings in Myanmar in 2017 as military officials used the site to spread hate speech.
‘I, working for Facebook, had been a party to genocide,’ the whistleblower wrote.
Building on Haugen’s statements, the anonymous whistleblower, who worked on Facebook’s Integrity Team, also shared a story about a top company official brushing aside worries of election interference, the Washington Post reports.
As the company was looking to quell political controversy following Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Facebook communications official Tucker Bounds allegedly said, ‘It will be a flash in the pan.’
‘Some legislators will get pissy. And then in a few weeks they will move onto something else. Meanwhile we are printing money in the basement, and we are fine.’
The whistleblower explained that Bounds’ alleged viewpoint was common among the leadership in the company, and other former employees have said that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg were well aware of the problems.
Bounds has denied the claim and both he and Facebook chastised the Washington Post’s reporting of the affidavit.
‘It sets a dangerous precedent to hang an entire story on a single source making a wide range of claims without any apparent corroboration,’ Facebook spokeswoman Erin McPike said in a statement.
Former employees said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, left, and COO Sheryl Sandberg were aware of Facebook’s failings but did little to fix the situation
Zuckerberg, shown testifying before congress in 2019, has defended his company despite leaked documents and testimony from former employees detailing the company’s wrongs
Haugen and the new whistleblower also submitted the allegations to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which oversees all publicly traded companies.
In the SEC affidavit, the anonymous ex-employee alleges that Facebook officials routinely undermined efforts within the company to fight misinformation and hate speech out of fear of angering Trump and his allies.
The former employee said that on one occasion, Facebook’s Public Policy team defended a ‘white list’ that exempted Breitbart News and other Trump-aligned publishers from Facebook’s ordinary rules against spreading fake news.
When an employee questioned this policy, Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president of global policy, reportedly shot down any concerns.
‘Do you want to start a fight with Steven Bannon,’ Kaplan allegedly said.
Kaplan, who had been previously criticized by former employees for allegedly seeking to protect conservative interests on Facebook, denies he ever showed bias.
‘There has never been a whitelist that exempts publishers, including Breitbart, from Facebook’s rules against misinformation,’ he insisted.