SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee grilled Facebook and Twitter executives in a congressional hearing Wednesday, arguing the social media giants have “blatant bias” against conservative viewpoints.
The Utah Republican pointed to Facebook removing a pro-life organization’s ads showing babies that survived after birth at around 20 weeks, but not removing a comparable image of a premature baby in other ads. The company later put at least one of the Susan B. Anthony List ads back up.
“It’s not lost on any of us that this cuts overwhelmingly in one direction over the other,” he said in a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution. “Insofar as you would suggest and have your users believe, you are somehow a politically neutral forum, that’s laughable.”
Lee quizzed Neil Potts, Facebook public policy director, and Carlos Monje Jr., Twitter director of public policy and philanthropy, about the “corporate culture” at their companies. He questioned whether their workforces have the ability to filter content in a politically neutral manner.
Monje said Twitter works hard every day to make sure it is impartial. It allows all sides of a debate to post comments as well as criticism of the platform itself in trying to build an open environment, he said.
“What about the kind of environment that allows someone to say abortion is terrible or abortion is a fundamental right? Is that equally important?" Lee said.
Monje said those conversations take place on Twitter every day and the company strives to treat them the same.
Potts said he doesn’t think Facebook has political bias, but “there is the room for unconscious bias that we do not recognize.”
Facebook's Bay Area office probably has more liberal workers or those who identify as Democrats than Republicans, but the company is global, he said. Facebook doesn’t survey its employee political ideologies, Potts noted.
Lee said Facebook is perceived as having a certain degree of objectivity and neutrality but has ended up with "very disparate" treatment of similar images.
"This is unmistakable," he said, adding it produces very different outcomes on the right than on the left. "I'm asking you, ‘Are we crazy in perceiving this? Are we wrong?’"
Potts said Facebook is a platform for diverse viewpoints. He said the company is collecting anecdotes to see if its monitoring policies are being misapplied.
"Is it the case that we over-enforce on pro-choice content? Is the case that we over-enforce on pro-life content?" he said.
Lee said it's the company's prerogative to have a corporate culture that's "overwhelmingly to one side, but I don't know if that's necessarily where you want to be or how you're portraying yourself to the world."