You may have heard about conservatives being in their usual rage about how Facebook is “censoring” them. Complete nonsense, of course, but this is one of their favorite things to do.
Conservatives love being the victim. Christian conservatives adore martyrdom (have you noticed all the movies on that theme lately?), but conservatives in general simply can’t get enough of claiming they’re horribly oppressed. Liberal media! Reverse racism! Feminazis! Religious persecution! Gun grabbers! Voter fraud! The list goes on.
My favorite representative example of this mindset was a news story back in 2005, about how quotes printed on the side of coffee cups at Starbucks were more often liberal than conservative. Right-wingers got in the exact same state about Starbucks then as they are with Facebook now. The media obliged, running stories on the “issue.”
The money quote, however, came from a woman named Yvette Nunez, a 27-year-old Republican from Tampa. Originally, she hadn’t even noticed the supposed imbalance, but once alerted to it, she quickly fell into line. “I’m not surprised,” she said. “I’m used to being under-represented.”
Keep in mind that in 2005, conservatives controlled pretty much everything. They had had the White House for 5 years, control of the House for 11 years, and the Senate for 9 of the previous 11 years. Conservatives dominated the Supreme Court, and similarly exercised controlling influence over the media—all of this in the shadow of 9/11, when the conservative agenda carried more power than ever.
This woman, however, perhaps from reflex more than anything else, felt “under-represented” because her coffee cups disagreed with her more often than not. Not that she had actually noticed or been affected in any real way.
This is more than just a conditioned reflex or personality quirk amongst right-wingers, however; it is also very much a conscious strategy. It’s called “working the ref.” The more you can claim to be disadvantaged and that the deck is stacked against you, the more you can demand things be “corrected” in your favor. It’s a negotiating ploy: insist that the reasonable center is in fact somehow terribly skewed against you and that the “real” center is way more toward you, and you can shift the end result far more in your direction.
Conservatives will play on this any and every time they possibly can. The entire “liberal media” lie is based on this. The claim of a “color-blind” society which actually suffers from “reverse racism” is founded on the same principle. The specter of “religious persecution” against Christians in a country absolutely dominated by them mirrors this imagined imbalance. We see it in “scandals,” like the story about how the IRS was targeting conservative groups, or how Homeland Security was maligning conservatives by citing a threat from their ranks.
It is, in short, one of the favorite forms of “political correctness” that conservatives take glee in demanding. “We’re being discriminated against and disparaged!” we hear. “Correct for that!”
The whole Facebook “scandal” is exactly the same, and based on evidence just as shoddy. Apparently, one anonymous, admittedly conservative, and presumably disgruntled former worker from Facebook made a completely unevidenced and possibly biased claim that other workers at Facebook were allowing their liberal bias to steer them in their control of the “trending” list.
If you read the story carefully, however, the headline and the main claim can be seen for the bullshit they really are. After reading the headline “We [Facebook] Routinely Suppressed Conservative News,” and multiple accusations about conservatives getting “deep-sixed” and “blacklisted,” we read the actual practice:
Stories covered by conservative outlets (like Breitbart, Washington Examiner, and Newsmax) that were trending enough to be picked up by Facebook’s algorithm were excluded unless mainstream sites like the New York Times, the BBC, and CNN covered the same stories. …
“We were told that if we saw something, a news story that was on the front page of these ten sites, like CNN, the New York Times, and BBC, then we could inject the topic,” said one former curator. “If it looked like it had enough news sites covering the story, we could inject it—even if it wasn’t naturally trending.”
In other words, Facebook was trying to exclude political bias—not practice it! They were told that if a story was not being picked up by the major news sources—not just liberal ones—then it should not have free rein on Facebook. Note that the description of the process did not exclude the possibility that liberal stories would also be held from trending if they were not also reported in the big news outlets—which was probably the case, if any of this was true.
If that’s how it worked, then that makes eminent business sense: Facebook would not want to let itself devolve into a partisan cesspool, where any one point of view dominates—thus alienating potentially half their audience. It is fully likely that liberal-leaning trending stories were “suppressed” exactly as much—but the anonymous former worker, a self-described conservative, didn’t notice or care about those.
In the wake of this, conservatives acted true to form: they railed and wailed about how badly they are oppressed, taking advantage of the idea that tech companies are so liberal and conservatives are so put upon. What, at worst, would have been a subtle act of bias only a fraction as significant as run-of-the-mill daily business as Fox News (which is actually a “news” outlet, unlike Facebook), was treated as so utterly scandalous that even a congressional investigation was warranted—and immediately threatened.
Facebook, in a strikingly acquiescent move, agreed to have a group of notable conservatives come to Facebook to judge them first-hand. Among them was Glenn Beck. I will admit, I figured him to be the most explosive of the bunch, and fully expected to hear him lead the pack in ranting and hair-pulling, no matter what Facebook told them.
Instead, surprisingly, Beck was actually the voice of reason in the group—which might tell you something about how rabid the group was. Beck wrote:
Walking out of the meeting, I was convinced that Facebook is behaving appropriately and trying to do the right thing. They were humble, open, and listened intently to everyone in the room. …
Conservative media, which was started as a reaction to the inherent bias in the main stream media, does not trust anyone outside our circle. Hell, we don’t even trust the people inside our circle. So it’s understandable that going to Silicon Valley, for many conservatives, is like going into enemy territory. … as a general rule, we do not trust them. And with one story, conservatives told Facebook, “There’s nothing left in the trust bank. There’s no goodwill. You must have been scamming us this whole time.” …
So what disturbed me about the Facebook meeting?
I sat through a meeting that, to me, felt like I was attending a Rainbow Coalition meeting, that people (not me) had come with a list of demands.
I looked around the room, I heard the complaints, I listened to the perspectives, and not a single person in the room shared evidence of any wrongdoing. …
I sat there looking around and heard things like:
1) Facebook has a very liberal workforce. Has Facebook considered diversity in their hiring practice? The country is 2% Mormon. Maybe Facebook’s company should better reflect that reality.
2) Maybe Facebook should consider a six-month training program to help their biased and liberal workforce understand and respect conservative opinions and values.
3) We need to see strong and specific steps to right this wrong.
It was like affirmative action for conservatives. When did conservatives start demanding quotas AND diversity training AND less people from Ivy League Colleges.
He also stressed several times that this whole thing was based upon one story from one source, not something with any real evidence behind it.
Beck’s point about the conservatives being so liberal-like in their demands, however, shows up another propensity on the right: accusing the left of doing something, then doing it far more vehemently themselves. “Democrats filibuster!” they raged in 2005, and then when Republicans took over Congress, they filibustered several hundred percent more. “Liberals are too politically correct!” they rage, and then demand that no one says “Happy Holidays,” and rage when anyone publicly discusses gun control after yet another mass shooting.
They despise exactly the things Beck pointed out the conservatives were demanding—but only when liberals do it. But It’s OK If You’re A Republican.
Not that Beck isn’t still biased in his reporting, or that he won’t go all nutball again tomorrow. However, when Beck himself sees his own people as going off the deep end, you know that it’s not all “fair and balanced” in that crowd, to be sure.