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Donald Trump, Jr. floats a Facebook for conservatives

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In the days after the 2016 election, Gizmodo published a much-discussed story that predicted our curr
 
August 30 · Issue #198 · View online
The Interface
In the days after the 2016 election, Gizmodo published a much-discussed story that predicted our current moment. The story, written by Michael F. Nuñez, alleged that Facebook had built a tool to reduce the spread of fake news — and then abandoned the tool over fears it would disproportionately affect right-wing news sites. Nuñez reported that Facebook had undertaken a high-level overview of its products in an effort to identify ways in which they might be biased against conservatives.
Facebook denied most of the substance of the story. But subsequent reporting reporting did find concerns within the company that right-wing users might someday turn on the service en masse. (See the now-famous May 2016 meeting between Zuckerberg and 16 prominent conservatives.) As I wrote in 2016:
When an earlier generation of media companies acted as gatekeepers against false and misleading stories, they created a market for alternative media. That led to the rise of conservative talk radio, Fox News, and (most recently) the alt-right. Facebook’s worst nightmare is that conservatives stop seeing it as a neutral platform, and create a fair-and-balanced social network of their own.
On Thursday, that nightmare gained a bit of momentum. Axios’ Mike Allen spoke to Donald Trump Jr., who said he was in the market for a “conservative, Facebook-like social network,” which he would heavily promote to his millions of followers:
When I asked him if his father’s 2020 campaign might build such a platform, Don Jr. said: “I’d love to do it. But what I would prefer is, take one of the two Silicon Valley conservatives and let them start it. And then I’d help promote the platform and be all over that.”
Scary thought: Imagine tribal news delivered via tribal pipes. And, as one mischievous Trump adviser told us, imagine the president moving his Twitter show to that network.
Of course, merely wishing for a conservative Facebook won’t make it so. There’s already an alternative right-wing Twitter named Gab, and after two years it seems barely afloat. It’s also not clear an ideologically pure social network would even be that much fun to use; as Joe Weisenthal put it: “a right-wing only social network will give users no way to trigger the libs, and so what’s the point? People will just get bored.”
Moreover, the existing Facebook has been an incredible boon to the conservative movement, as NewsWhip’s rankings of the most popular publishers consistently attest. (Maya Kosoff: “the fact of the matter is that a legitimate ‘Facebook for conservatives’ would look … a lot like Facebook.”)
At the same time, there appears to be at least some level of risk that this drumbeat of bias complaints is doing lasting damage to Facebook’s image. On Wednesday the Media Research Center, a partisan organization devoted to promoting the idea that the media is biased against conservatives, published the results of a poll it sponsored. sample size was small — just 351 people — but the views are consistent with the ideas that Republican lawmakers have been floating in hearings lately. And it doesn’t help that trust in Facebook has been declining generally:
Of conservatives who have used Facebook, 32.3% say they have either left (7.5%), or are considering leaving (24.8%), Facebook due to its censorship of conservative views.
What’s more, nearly two-thirds (66.9%) of conservative likely voters have less trust in Facebook than they did a year ago. Likewise, nearly two-thirds (66.1%) do not trust Facebook to treat all political views equally and 64.6% believe sites like Facebook are intentionally censoring conservatives and conservative ideas.
A frustration I have with this poll — and with the whole debate, really — is that the terms are so imprecise. What would mean for Facebook to “treat all political views equally”? Facebook was built to be personalized to the individual; if you want to see nothing but Fox News in your feed, you very easily can. Conversely, were Facebook to inject an equal bunch of articles from CNN or the New York Times into your heavily curated, Fox-only feed, you would likely see Facebook as more biased than it is today.
But it’s hard to fight a fundamentally emotional argument with reason. (That sentence also doubles as my preview of next week’s Congressional hearings.) Mainstream press outlets have largely been unable to convince conservatives that they are practicing journalism in good faith. And I suspect Facebook will have just as hard a time.
It seems almost quaint now to think about the months before the election, when Facebook scoured its products for evidence of actual bias against conservatives. It seems clear now that no matter what it found, or did, it would be facing the same fury it did today. And given the bad-faith arguments it rests on top of, it’s not at all clear what Facebook can do about it.

Democracy
Trump Says Google, Facebook, Amazon May Be ‘Antitrust Situation’
Jack Dorsey Gets His Day in Washington
Senators Criticize Google CEO for Declining to Testify
Hatch asks FTC to investigate Google's market dominance
Trolls for Sale in the World’s Social Media Capital
WhatsApp kicks off radio campaigns in India to tackle fake news
Elsewhere
The People With Power at Facebook
How Misinfodemics Spread Disease
Grindr IPO for gay dating app
Johnny Johnny Yes Papa explained by the internet’s best meme creators
Launches
Twitter will begin labeling political ads about issues such as immigration
Takes
Why Google Doesn't Rank Right-Wing Outlets Highly
And finally ...
Snapchat, Weather Channel, and others hit with anti-Semitic vandalism
Talk to me
Send tips, comments, questions, and suggested features for partisan social networks: casey@theverge.com.
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