Results of a Facebook audit released Tuesday, finding that the social media company has “significant work” to do to satisfy concerns from conservatives, are drawing criticism from both liberals and conservatives alike.
The eight-page report, authored by former Sen. Jon Kyl with Covington law firm in consultation with 133 conservative organizations, was inconclusive on whether the platform was biased in suppressing conservative views. The report, however, was written in a manner aiming to ease criticism of the company from Republicans and President Donald Trump, who often charge that the tech giant is part of a greater movement among large tech companies in Silicon Valley stifling conservative ideas on the internet.
Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, who has been the leading Republican senator pushing for greater federal regulation of big tech, slammed the report as a “smokescreen disguised as a solution.”
Hawley proposed legislation in June stripping social media companies such as Facebook of liability protections granted under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act unless they consented to an external audit to prove political neutrality.
The Missouri senator argued the Kyl and Covington audit was whitewash and far from thorough, as the report was essentially a compilation of interviews. “Merely asking somebody to listen to conservatives’ concerns isn’t an audit,” Hawley said.
“Facebook should conduct an actual audit by giving a trusted third party access to its algorithm, its key documents, and its content moderation protocols,” Hawley said in a statement Tuesday. “Then Facebook should release its results to the public.”
Other conservatives have been critical of Kyl’s report.
Brent Bozell, the president of Media Research Center, a conservative nonprofit dedicated to exposing bias in the media, claimed the Facebook report released this week was “empty and insulting.”
“Facebook refuses to publicly acknowledge that conservatives have been disproportionately affected by their content policies,” Bozell said in a statement. “We have waited over a year for Facebook to properly address the long list of issues raised by the conservative movement, but have received nothing of substance in return.”
Liberal groups also attacked the report but for the opposite reason, arguing it gives further ammunition to what they say are unsubstantiated claims of anti-conservative bias. The report, while it received flak from conservatives, still raised issue with how Facebook determines hate speech and whether the platform adequately fostered a diversity of views on users’ newsfeeds.
“Facebook made a grave mistake in allowing external political actors to direct an assessment of company policy and practices,” Henry Fernandez, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told Politico. “It is no surprise they elevated narrow political interests over the safety of all users.”
In a blog post, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs and communications, Nick Clegg, defended the report and said it would be updated in the next few months.
“We take accusations of political bias made against us extremely seriously,” Clegg wrote. “Our policies, and how we apply them, can have a huge impact, so we have a responsibility to apply them evenly, without favoring one side or another and without devaluing the principle of free expression.”
Facebook has been at the center of controversy surrounding big tech in recent months as one of the big four tech giants federal agencies are investigating for possibly violating antitrust laws and engaging in unfair trade practices.
In July, the Federal Trade Commission handed down a $5 billion fine on the company after finding it guilty of mishandling user data, breaching privacy laws. The fine is the largest a federal agency has ever handed down to a tech company.
The Securities and Exchange Commission also levied a $100 million fine on Facebook this year for misleading investors over the risks of misusing its users’ data.