Glenn Beck and Erick Erickson have both written pieces in response to this week’s meeting with Facebook – Beck as someone who attended, Erick as someone who didn’t. You can read them here, at Medium. And here, at the other site with the eagle logo. Both suggest the same thing about the conservative relationship with Facebook: that criticizing the corporate entity for its obvious bias in its news curation is an act of hypocrisy and nothing more than a Jesse Jackson-style shakedown.
Erickson:“It seems a growing number of conservative decided they must embrace the same tactics of the left and turn into professional grievance mongers and shake down artists. Just as Republicans fail to win elections by being Democrat-lite, conservatives are never going to beat liberals at their own game. But here they are trying.”
Beck: “[Zuckerberg] went on to discuss that they are far from perfect, that they are always working on the algorithms, the improvement of the newsfeed, the user experience, etc. The goal, though, was very clear — to be an open platform. When I looked into his eyes and his team’s eyes, I believed him and I believed them. I hope I am not proven wrong.”
These are the complaints of useful idiots. They are stupid and both men should be ashamed at their dull-witted retromingency in making them. Facebook is not being shaken down in any capacity. It is being criticized not as a corporation, but in its chosen role as a media entity. Facebook curates the news; it is a news source for the vast majority of Americans. It put its trending algorithm forward as a source of news, with the false impression given that it accurately represented the trending topics of the Facebook community. Instead, it warped these results according to their ideological framework and their biases to falsely represent the top stories of the day. This is a serious accusation and one Facebook has admitted to as a problem. Yet Beck and Erickson are arguing against Mark Zuckerberg when they say that it doesn’t matter.
If you agree with Beck and Erickson, you must also throw out the entire realm of media bias reporting that has been a mark of the right for decades as nothing more than agitating for affirmative action hirings, which is not their goal at all. Criticism of the New York Times, The Washington Post, and the mainstream television media has been a hallmark of conservative writing for ages, and it is criticism based on the fact that they are often wrong about things that everyone right of center knows about.
This criticism has had an impact: witness most recently the hiring, over the past few year, at CNN of a number of thoughtful young conservative commentators who offer a much higher quality of analysis than you will hear from Beck or Erickson. But in their view, is that just Jesse Jacksoning? When Jeff Zucker admits that CNN gave short shrift to conservatives in past years and that critics convinced him they needed to correct the lineup to add more ideological balance, is it an admission that he was shaken down? No. It is an admission that, as a media entity, they were not fully representing the audience they wanted to reach, and that they wanted to be better at it.
Facebook is the most powerful social media platform in the world. It is the primary news source for the bulk of America. Glenn Beck walked into a room with them and loudly insisted he was uninterested in influencing their hiring decisions which leave out conservatives, because he wanted to out-conservative everyone in the room. But the whole reason the meeting was even happening was that Facebook was admitting their fault; that they had, just like CNN, hired a lineup that did not match up with the country. They were looking for guidance because they acknowledged they had screwed up – that what they had represented as an algorithm was in fact a regimen guided by humans, and humans with opinions, and that these humans and those above them had misrepresented what the news was to millions of people for a very long time. This is not organic, this is not based in an algorithm, this is a corporate culture that failed to represent its community and left out the perspective of half the nation.
Attending a meeting with Facebook where you were invited to voice your opinions about their media activity and then voicing them is not an act of shakedown. It is the same thing that would happen in a meeting with the New York Times, The Washington Post, or the mainstream television divisions. It would be an act of foolishness or cowardice to fail to tell these media entities that their reporters were not representative of the country because of their religious, cultural, and political perspectives, as it happens to be true. Facebook is the same way. To say otherwise does not turn conservative media representatives into the Rainbow-PUSH Coalition. If they really believe this and aren’t just posturing, then Beck and Erickson can go to their rooms to play their hit song “Alone in My Principles” and leave the media criticism fray to those of us who believe it is important and valuable, and have the spine to do it.