When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took to Capitol Hill this week, he was bound to face a variety of difficult questions ranging from his company’s handling of user information to the proliferation of fake news over its pages.
For Republican lawmakers, however, the presence of the enigmatic CEO has provided them the opportunity to press on a separate, though related, matter: the treatment of a pro-Trump YouTube duo.
During the course of two days, at least four lawmakers have quizzed Zuckerberg over reports that Facebook flagged the content of Diamond & Silk as “unsafe to the community.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) started it off by alleging that conservative American voices have been silenced by Facebook’s content screeners and specifically cited Diamond & Silk, the flamboyant Trump boosters who began their career as a YouTube video duo and have since become Fox News regulars with President Trump’s ear. (One senior administration official told The Daily Beast that the devoted duo have such a close relationship with Trump that they practically serve as “senior economic advisers.”)
The pro-Trump duo recently claimed that Facebook blocked some of their content because it was deemed “unsafe to the community.” A rep for the site confirmed this week that they were "reaching out to the creators of Diamond and Silk to try to resolve this matter."
“This is actually a concern that I have… making sure that we don’t have any bias in the work that we do,” Zuckerberg told Cruz. “I think it is a fair concern.”
Zuckerberg’s answers on Tuesday apparently did not suffice because during Wednesday’s hearing on the House side, he was peppered with a handful more Diamond & Silk-related questions.
“Why is Facebook censoring conservative bloggers such as Diamond & Silk?” Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) breathlessly asked. “That is ludicrous. They hold conservative views. That isn't ‘unsafe.’”
“In that specific case, our team made an enforcement error and we have already gotten in touch with them to reverse it,” Zuckerberg asserted.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) then set Zuck up for yet another Diamond & Silk-related dig. “Do you subjectively manipulate your algorithms to prioritize or censor speech?” she asked.
“There are types of content like terrorism that I think we all agree we do not want to have on our service,” Zuckerberg replied. “So we build systems that can identify those and can remove that content and we’re very proud of that work.”
“Let me tell you something right now,” Blackburn snarked in response. “Diamond & Silk is not terrorism.”
Moments later, it was House Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s turn.
“The Diamond & Silk example, where you… described it as mistake. Were the people who made that mistake held accountable in any way?” the Louisiana Republican asked.
“Congressman, let me follow up with you on that,” a stoic Zuckerberg responded. “That situation developed while I was here preparing to testify, so I’m not—I don’t know the details of it.”
Facebook’s treatment of Diamond & Silk gets to a larger issue of whether the private company views itself as an open platform for political content of any stripe, or whether it feels it can and should apply editorial controls. But the sheer number of specific questions about the pro-Trump pair was a remarkable illustration of how congressional hearings almost always devolve into partisan politics.
Later in the hour, Rep. Billy Long (R-MO) brought out a poster with Diamond & Silk’s picture, and read to Zuckerberg a question submitted directly by the duo. “What is unsafe about two black women supporting President Donald J. Trump?” was their question.
While lawmakers obsessed over Diamond & Silk, they almost completely ignored Facebook’s role in Myanmar’s ongoing genocide.
United Nations human-rights experts investigating what has been described as the “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya people stated last week that the social-media platform is to blame for the rapid spread of propaganda and hate speech against the stateless minority.
Additionally, The Daily Beast reported last year, Rohingya activists found their posts documenting the genocide mysteriously disappearing from Facebook.
The only mention of this connection came Tuesday during the joint Senate commerce and judiciary committees hearing with Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
During his allotted time, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) repeatedly pressed the social-media titan on the matter, citing specific examples of violent propaganda that fell through Facebook’s content-screening cracks.
“What’s happening in Myanmar is a terrible tragedy, and we need to do more,” Zuckerberg pledged. “We need to ramp up our effort there dramatically.” He vowed to hire more Burmese-speaking employees to help filter out the violence-flaming content.
As of press time, not a single member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked Zuckerberg about his site’s role in aiding genocide abroad.