So Mark Zuckerberg met Wednesday with a bunch of right-wing pundits, activists, and figures today after being mau-maued by conservatives when a Gizmodo article charged that Facebook “routinely suppressed conservative views” in its trending news section.
Whatever the merit of those charges, the better corporate response would have been a polite fuck you, and not simply because conservatives, whiners and crybabies that they are, will never be satisfied.
William F. Buckley famously announced that National Review and post-war conservatism existed to “stand athwart history, yelling Stop,” but what right-wingers really love to do is complain that nobody takes them seriously or loves them enough. In fact, even folks at groups who were invited to the Facebook meeting are calling it “a textbook con job” that is designed only “to make this go away.” If there’s no pleasing some people, it’s best to not even try.
Facebook, which has created a compelling alternative to dreary old meatspace, has nothing to apologize for. I’m not a fan of its “walled garden” strategy, which is nauseatingly reminiscent of AOL’s early 1990s strategy of trying to keep users from ever escaping to the wild and untamed Internet. As the editor of a website and a video channel, I hate the way that Facebook is forcing all of us, professional and amateur alike, to upload our content into its insatiable gullet and how every time it changes its secret algorithms governing distribution in users’ timelines, we all need to snap to attention.
Then again, Facebook has also created a place where literally billions of people from all over the world congregate every day. I’m not alone in wanting more transparency (and ad revenue!) from the service, but we also don’t have to go there, and—let’s be honest--we’ll stop the second it becomes too overbearing in its demands on our time, attention, and money. Which is of course exactly what happened to AOL.
Conservatives are outraged that Facebook might not treat, say, The Daily Caller, which is not allowed to criticize Fox News because its head honcho draws a paycheck there, as being on the same level as The New York Times. And that Facebook might put more weight on material appearing in USA Today than at the openly partisan Breitbart.com, whose latest big, objectively pro-Trump bombshell, “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew,” has started an internecine war among GOP loyalists that’s the Twitter equivalent of the Castellammarese War.
Dismissing or downgrading those outlets isn’t bias. It’s good judgment.
What do conservatives want? Just a level playing field in social media. When do they want it? Now.
Which sounds reasonable enough at first blush, but it’s also kind of a joke. For all their reflexive bitching about media bias, smart, accomplished, and hard-working conservatives are doing just fine when it comes to infiltrating the lamestream media.
Consider some of the attendees at the Facebook pow-wow. Glenn Beck was there and even assuming his Blaze empire is entering its decline and fall, that doesn’t at all take away from his accomplishment of keeping his impressive alternative network going for as long as he has. The Blaze—which charges $9.95 for massive amounts of original video, audio, and text content and has expanded to satellite TV networks—launched in 2011. It’s more popular than Sling TV and has somewhere in the hundreds of thousands of subscribers. When he couldn’t stand the constraints of his old stamping grounds—Fox News, of all places—he pulled a Zuckerberg and created his own damn sandbox. Good on him.
Joining Beck at Facebook was former White House spokeswoman Dana Perino (a friendly acquaintance), who hasn’t been cooling her jets since the end of the Bush years. She’s a cohost of The Five on Fox News and a best-selling author. Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, is a regular New York Times columnist and poor old Jim DeMint is merely a former senator who heads up The Heritage Foundation, a think tank and political-action group that rakes in $112 million a year and rarely shows lower than third in any ranking of influential nonprofits.
One of the few things that conservatives are correct about is that, more or less, America is a meritocracy where outstanding people, even if they are right-wingers, can flourish. Which makes the one true outrage related to the Facebook story that much more outrageous.
Without pausing to learn if the allegations were true or—more important, whether how a private company operates is any business of the goddamn government—South Dakota Sen. John Thune shot off a letter calling Zuckerberg on the carpet “pursuant…to the authority” of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Facebook had until “no later than May 26, 2016” to explain how it conducts its business. “In addition,” wrote Thune, widely admired in conservative circles and constantly touted as presidential material, “please arrange for your staff, including employees responsible for the Trending Topics, to brief Committee staff on this issue.”
Are you kidding me, Senator? I thought this was America, not Venezuela or Cuba. But as long as you’re demanding businesses over which you have absolutely no jurisdiction to account for themselves, I’d love it if you’d ask, I don't know, the Drudge Report—a great and important right-leaning website that has revolutionized journalism—why it doesn't link to my stuff as much as it used to?
Or better yet, maybe you and other conservatives could stop trying to whine your way into the newsfeeds of Americans and just start producing superior content that people really want to read.