Culture

Facebook sacked the engineer who showed it favored right-wing outlets

Further proof that if Facebook does have a bias, it sure ain't against conservatives.

The CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, can be seen on a screen staring ahead.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier this month, BuzzFeed News published an exclusive report about internal tensions at Facebook where some employees have claimed that the company gives special treatment to right-wing publications and personalities. Some of those who have highlighted evidence to support this position have even lost their jobs, including a senior engineer.

Curiously, the report didn't receive much mainstream attention, it certainly poked a massive hole in the right-wing whinging about Silicon Valley's alleged "anti-conservative bias." Among those to receive what these employees call preferential treatment are Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, the pro-Donald Trump duo Diamond and Silk, and other figures in the videos from the non-profit and right-wing Prager University. The workers call it a pattern, not a random occurrence.

The curious case of Breitbart News — One right-wing outlet to come up in the report was Breitbart News, which recently sponsored a video titled "America's Frontline Doctors." The video shows a staged and scripted press conference in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., with a group of white coat-wearing actors. The pretend-doctors insist in the video that "you don't need masks" and that any medical argument against hydroxychloroquine as a cure for COVID-19 is "fake science" peddled by "fake pharma companies." The video is objectively and demonstrably false. It's also dangerous. And yet, the outlet responsible for it enjoys a cozy spot on Facebook.

The video accrued 14 million hits in just six hours and was eventually removed from the right-wing outlet's page, but the damage was done. The clip was shared far beyond Breitbart's page. The issue came up during an internal meeting, according to BuzzFeed News, where Mark Zuckerberg "danced around the question" about Breitbart's status as a Facebook News partner. The Facebook CEO eventually said that if the outlet got two strikes within the span of 90 days, it would be removed from the tab.

Enter engineer Joel Kaplan — In late July, a Facebook senior engineer reported that Breitbart's misinformation strikes were cleared within the same day of being highlighted. And it took place "without explanation," according to this worker. The same employee noted that an Instagram post by Kirk was flagged as "priority" and, when it was brought up, the rating was left untouched. Key to this event was Facebook's vice president of global public policy, Joel Kaplan, who served in George W. Bush's administration and supported Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's appointment. Despite multiple questions from employees and BuzzFeed News, Facebook never explained why Kaplan had personal say in Kirk's post rating.

The post by the senior engineer who brought up Kirk's rating and other preferential treatment was removed as Facebook said it apparently violated "respectful communication policy." Shortly after that, the engineer left the company on grounds that were "not voluntary." And the chasm grew wider and deeper. One employee described the individual in the following words: "[He] was a conscience of this company, and a tireless voice for us doing the right thing."

Facebook insists that it encourages an environment of ideological diversity and openness. But this report paints a very different picture. If your workers risk losing their livelihoods for pointing out inconsistencies in your policies, your environment is antithetical — not conducive — to honesty and acceptance. Sadly, none of these reports seem to have any influence on Zuckerberg whose allegiance appears reserved for shareholders.