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Facebook gets invited back to Congress. (It shouldn't go.)

April 20 · Issue #124 · View online
The Interface
Programming note: The Interface will go dark from Monday through Thursday of next week. I’m traveling to New York to speak at Social Media Week (come!), and to record episodes of our forthcoming podcast, Converge. I’ll be back Friday to talk about Facebook and Twitter earnings, and anything that blows up next week.
Of the many dumb questions that were asked of Mark Zuckerberg during last week’s congressional hearings, none were dumber — or asked in such transparently bad faith — as those about Diamond and Silk. Tragically, today we learned that the dumb questions asked in bad faith will continue. Here’s Tony Romm and Craig Timberg
House Republicans have invited Diamond and Silk, two conservative video bloggers who were deemed “unsafe” by Facebook after becoming online sensations, to testify next week about allegations of bias online.
The hearing, set for Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee, comes as Republicans accuse Facebook, Google and Twitter of favoring the liberal points of view popular in Silicon Valley and censoring conservative opinions. All three companies have been invited to attend the hearing but have not said whether they will.
Lynette (“Diamond”) Hardaway and Rochelle (“Silk”) Richardson are pro-Trump vloggers who amassed 1.4 million followers on Facebook. Some time in the past month, they began to see a decline in the reach of their posts. The Post summed it up in another article last week:
The pair first accused Facebook of wrongdoing on Friday night, in a post on Facebook to their 1.4 million followers. The post has more than 100,000 likes and 60,000 shares. Essentially, Diamond and Silk accused the platform of hiding notifications to their followers, and showing their Facebook posts to fewer people, limiting their reach. They wrote that they spent months trying to get Facebook to explain what happened, until they received the email calling them “unsafe.”
Diamond and Silk say someone at Facebook sent them a message that said, “The Policy team has came to the conclusion that your content and your brand has been determined unsafe to the community,” which is where they first got the idea that there was bias against them. In a statement sent to The Washington Post Tuesday, Facebook spokeswoman Sarah Pollack said that the message was “inaccurate and not reflective of the way we communicate with our community,” and that Facebook had already reached out to them with more information.
This story bothers me for many reasons. Let’s count them off. 
1. There is no systemic bias against conservatives at Facebook. Indeed, conservative ideas (and hoaxes) animated the most viral posts of 2017. Fox News routinely ranks among the top publishers on Facebook in terms of raw engagement. In November it was No. 1
2. Facebook clearly didn’t “censor” Diamond and Silk, whose post about being “censored” was shared … 60,000 times on Facebook. Beyond the one admittedly strange message sent to them, there’s no evidence Facebook throttled their reach in any way unique to them. The average Facebook post now reaches one-third fewer people than it did in January, according to research posted this week.
3. Facebook is legally allowed to moderate content, including Diamond and Silk’s. Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz suggested that by throttling Diamond and Silk, Facebook would lose its immunity from liability over what users post to the site. “The predicate for Section 230 immunity under the CDA is that you’re a neutral public forum. Do you consider yourself a neutral public forum, or are you engaged in political speech, which is your right under the First Amendment?”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation set him straight.
It was a baffling question. Sen. Cruz seemed to be suggesting, incorrectly, that Facebook had to make a choice between enjoying protections for free speech under the First Amendment and enjoying the additional protections that Section 230 offers online platforms.
Online platforms are within their First Amendment rights to moderate their online platforms however they like, and they’re additionally shielded by Section 230 for many types of liability for their users’ speech. It’s not one or the other. It’s both.  
4. Watching a bunch of white lawmakers grill Facebook about the (possibly) reduced reach of two black women who just happen to share their ideological beliefs feels like concern trolling of the highest order. If conservative white lawmakers are sincerely interested in amplifying the voices of people of color, they could begin by dismantling the prison-industrial complex, restore voting rights to felons, and stop supporting anti-protest laws around the country.
Generally speaking, I think the tech platforms do well to appear before Congress when summoned. But this is one I would be happy to see Facebook, Google, and Twitter skip out of principle.

Facebook Has a New Data Policy—Here’s the Short Version
Exclusive: YouTube ran ads from hundreds of brands on extremist channels
As algorithms take over, YouTube's recommendations highlight a human problem
Facebook Expands Pre-Rolls, Details Videos It Won’t Serve Ads With
Kaspersky Lab banned from advertising on Twitter
Facebook’s Current Status With Advertisers? It’s Complicated
Instagram Stories have become traffic drivers for publishers and influencers
Reddit Taps Time Inc. Veteran Jen Wong As Its COO
Facebook trials High School Networks for Messenger. What can go wrong?
Here’s what Facebook’s unsend feature for Messenger might look like
Calling Facebook a Utility Would Only Make Things Worse
And finally ...
No, the BBC is not reporting the end of the world
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