Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg was on the hot seat yesterday as he testified before Congress about various issues from data privacy to consumer protections.
While Zuckerberg largely escaped unscathed, he made admissions that should be worrisome to anyone who values free speech and competition in the social media space.
Here are 3 quotes conservatives should be concerned about from Zuckerberg's testimony:
1. Zuckerberg admits that Silicon Valley is extremely leftist and there's bias against conservative views.
"First, I understand where that concern is coming from, because Facebook in the tech industry are located in Silicon Valley, which is an extremely left-leaning place, and I — this is actually a concern that I have and that I try to root out in the company, is making sure that we do not have any bias in the work that we do, and I think it is a fair concern that people would at least wonder about."
Zuckerberg didn't explain how he seeks diversity of views among staff. He claims though that where political censorship arises, he tries to root it out but provided no specifics.
This does nothing to quell concerns that the people who work for Facebook (from tech staff to reviewers) do not filter or censor conservative content. Just ask conservative commentators Diamond and Silk.
2. New regulations from Congress will stifle competition and harm smaller startups.
"I think part of the challenge with regulation in general is that when you add more rules that companies need to follow, that's something that a larger company like ours inherently just has the resources to go do, and that might just be harder for a smaller company getting started to be able to comply with"
This is an interesting admission. Facebook has said it welcomes Congress to create new regulations. However, that would be terrible for competition.
Big tech companies like Facebook have lobbyists to help craft legislation in a way that gives them an advantage and the resources to comply with new regulations. Regulations would create new barriers to entry for startups though and could potentially put smaller competitors out of business.
3. Creating a safe environment may win out over openness to ideas.
In response to Senator Ted Cruz's question about censorship, Zuckerberg concluded,
"I am very committed to making sure that Facebook is a platform for all ideas."
Yet, later in response to Senator Mike Lee's questioning about censorship, he says,
"… one of the things that is really important though is that in order to create a service where everyone has a voice, we also need to make sure that people aren't bullied, or — or basically intimidated, or the environment feels unsafe for them."
In this political environment, one person's postings may be "triggering" to another. One could envision a situation where Facebook considers some content hate speech or unsafe simply because the reviewers don't agree with it. He says they don't ask about political affiliation, but also doesn't explain how the "extremely left-leaning" perceptions of Silicon Valley don't impact their work.
As we've seen on college campuses today, students are quick to shut down opposing speakers and thought because they consider them offensive. College administrators have sided with students on limiting speech. What's to stop Facebook from following their lead?
If there's one big takeaway from these exchanges, it's that we need greater competition in the social media space.
As a private company, Facebook is well-entitled to set the rules for those who use their platforms. We can hope they will act objectively, but there are real examples that say otherwise.