Did Mark Zuckerberg Just Open a Big Can of Worms?
Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg's Thursday night post, in which he belatedly addressed a Monday Gizmodo report alleging that Facebook has an anti-conservative bias -- see "Former Facebook Workers: We Routinely Suppressed Conservative News" -- is a rather curious display of damage control.
It's a short post, just 309 words, and it mostly says nothing -- opening as it does with "I want to share some thoughts on the discussion about Trending Topics" and quickly swerving into boilerplate Facebook Utopianism: "We believe the world is better when people from different backgrounds and with different ideas all have the power to share their thoughts...." And 62 words into the post he even pulls out the mom card, as in, "We are one global community where anyone can share anything -- from a loving photo of a mother and her baby to intellectual analysis of political events."
Moms. Moms are the best, aren't they? Wait, where were we?
Oh right. Here, halfway into Zuckerberg's gentle musings, is where it gets a bit slippery and weird:
This week, there was a report suggesting that Facebook contractors working on Trending Topics suppressed stories with conservative viewpoints. We take this report very seriously and are conducting a full investigation to ensure our teams upheld the integrity of this product.
We have found no evidence that this report is true. If we find anything against our principles, you have my commitment that we will take additional steps to address it.
So... "We have found no evidence that this report is true..." but Facebook is "conducting a full investigation" -- "conducting," present-tense. So Mark Zuckerberg is jumping to conclusions and making pronouncements ("We have found no evidence that this report is true" plants the seed that the Gizmodo report is false) while an investigation is ongoing -- without revealing how the investigation is being conducted, who's runnng the investigation, etc.
Quick, look over here -- at the next paragraph!
In the coming weeks, I'll also be inviting leading conservatives and people from across the political spectrum to talk with me about this and share their points of view. I want to have a direct conversation about what Facebook stands for and how we can be sure our platform stays as open as possible.
That's awfully big-hearted of Zuckerberg, wouldn't you say?
Well, OK, maybe you wouldn't say that -- because Zuckerberg, in affecting a reach-across-the-aisle tone, is actually in a defensive crouch. (See: "Senate GOP Launches Inquiry Into Facebook's News Curation.")
In essence, Mark Zuckerberg just said: We're super nice, inclusive, mom-loving people here at Facebook, so don't believe that Gizmodo story, though we're taking it seriously and looking into it, and, hey, conservatives, let's talk!
Not the most satisfying stance, especially when you consider that now everyone has even more questions -- and even more demands to make of Facebook. For instance, Facebook user Steve Johnson, who posted this response to Zuckerberg's post:
Simple solutions. Hire more conservatives. Create a Metrics page for Trending Topics that shows how the algorithms selected the topics in the first place... in other words, be transparent about how the features work.
The problem is no one is going to believe you until this kind of transparency is achieved. People see you having dinner with President Obama and acting as a political activist on immigration. Tom Stocky at FB issued the denial and a report I read indicated he's a max donor to Hillary Clinton. Is there a single conservative among Facebook's top brass?
I'm guessing there are very few openly conservative employees at Facebook - hopefully that will change if you want a platform that is truly inclusive of all opinions.
Yeah, sorry, Mark Zuckerberg -- but this is not going away.
Simon Dumenco, aka Media Guy, is an Ad Age editor-at-large. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.