Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) on Tuesday had tough questions for Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg about how his company handles political speech.
Questioned about whether Facebook is a neutral public forum, Zuckerberg said the company does not engage in political speech and seeks to be a "platform for all ideas." Cruz, however, discussed instances where conservatives seemed to receive unfair treatment and where conservative ideas were somehow suppressed by Facebook.
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"In May of 2016, Gizmodo reported Facebook purposely and routinely suppressed conservative stories from trending news, including stories about CPAC, including stories about Mitt Romney, including stories about the Lois Lerner IRS scandal, including stories about Glenn Beck," Cruz said.
He went on to mention other examples, such as when Facebook shut down a page supporting Chick-fil-A after the fast-food chain was criticized by some on the left. Then he brought up Diamond and Silk, a pro-Trump duo whose Facebook page was shut down for being "unsafe," and he said this seems to be part of a pattern.
"Facebook has blocked over two dozen Catholic pages and most recently blocked Trump supporters Diamond and Silk's page, with 1.2 million Facebook followers, after determining their content and brand were ‘unsafe to the community,’" Cruz said. "To a great many Americans that appears to be a pervasive pattern of political bias."
Zuckerberg granted that Silicon Valley, where Facebook is headquartered, is an "extremely left-leaning place," and he said he tries to promote fairness at the company.
"This is actually a concern that I have and that I try to root out in the company is making sure we don’t have any bias in the work that we do and I think it is a fair concern that people would wonder about," Zuckerberg said.
Cruz then asked about a series of left-leaning groups and whether they ever had their pages or posts censored. Zuckerberg said he was not aware of any of those left-leaning groups, or any Democratic candidates whatsoever, having their content suppressed.
Cruz asked whether Facebook considers the political orientation of those it hires or fires, and Zuckerberg said the company does not. When Cruz brought up Palmer Luckey's departure after it came to light that he gave money to a pro-Trump group on the Internet, Zuckerberg insisted that Luckey was not forced out because of politics.
Cruz also asked whether Facebook’s goal to make social connections "positive" could lead to content reviewers restricting those with unpopular political views.
"Do you feel it's your responsibility to assess users, whether they are good and positive connections or ones that those 15,000 to 20,000 [content reviewers] deem unacceptable or deplorable?" Cruz asked.
Zuckerberg said he wanted Facebook to be an open platform for different political views and that he only wants to get rid of terrorist propaganda and other such unacceptable content.
"I'm very committed to making sure that Facebook is a platform for all ideas," Zuckerberg said. "That is a very important founding principle of what we do we're proud of the discourse and the different ideas that people can share on the service. That is something that, as long as I'm running the company, I'm going to be committed to making sure is the case."