The Facebook Facedown

Facebook was rocked recently by a whistleblower from within the organization who reported pressure to suppress conservative and libertarian stories from its trending news section. The scandal has snowballed, with even Congress getting involved. Now, Facebook leaders are meeting with a selection of conservatives to try and smooth things over. Are there deeper issues at play here?

Ron Paul: Hello everybody, thank you for tuning in to The Liberty Report. With me today is co-host Daniel McAdams, and, Daniel, it’s good to see you today.

Daniel McAdams: Good morning, Dr. Paul.

Ron Paul: I’d like to talk a little bit about Facebook, and since you are a Facebook expert, and know all the things on how it works, you can explain to me how the mechanism is. But we do want to talk about some of the issues, because there are political and economic issues dealing with the controversy with Facebook right now. There’s an important meeting coming up, a meeting of the great minds. A group of conservatives, who just happen not to like Donald Trump very much, along with Zuckerberg, who’s being charged with manipulating the news, and we didn’t even know that Facebook was a news agency where everybody knows there are a lot of people, like a billion or so, who get their news from Facebook. The controversy really is, have they being fudging things, have they being slanted, have they being biased?

We’ve seen the Paul’s name, Rand and Ron Paul’s name, that they weren’t that friendly with us, and I’ve been working for years on the assumption, especially early on, that these people in the media, and the technology people, and people who really understood technology and computers and communication, were the libertarians. But here we have supposedly libertarian minded people in the social networks, and they aren’t friendly to us. But, of course, the big controversy now has to be sorted out: what is true and what is to be done about it? The Senate wants to get involved. It does have a great deal of significance, but I have been interviewed on this so far, and I made the comment that we don’t need the government cracking down and telling Facebook what to do. But we certainly need to dissect this out because there are certain things that may have stepped over the line, and we might hear about that. I’m sure you’ve kept up with this, do you have any thoughts about this meeting coming up tomorrow, I wonder what’s going to be accomplished there, do you think Mark Zuckerberg is on the defensive maybe?

Daniel McAdams: I think so, this whole scandal broke not long ago. It was essentially the action of a whistleblower, or several of them, from within Facebook. They were working on this team that was handling the trending stories, which is a part of Facebook, where they show which stories are trending and which topics are trending. And they said that they were pressured to manipulate, they were giving the power to blacklist some, and to fast track others. So while Facebook gave the impression that the trending news was based on people liking certain topics or clicking on topics more, we find out from these whistleblowers that they actually were manipulating what went up and what went down on the trends. And they also said that they had been instructed to suppress so called conservative news, and as you point out, that includes some of our most prominent libertarians, who were supposedly suppressed.

So that’s a huge black eye for conservatives who do use Facebook a lot as users and as news generators, and, as you point out, that’s caused a huge embarrassment for Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. So now, tomorrow, he will meet with a group of so called conservatives, I don’t know if I would call them that, some of them appear as neo-cons to me. But he’s going to try to save face.

Ron Paul: It didn’t take long for the politicians to get involved, it may have some legal ramifications, but there is always a politician ready and raring to go. I want to read a couple of comments made from John Thune, who is a senator, and also the chairman of the Commerce Committee. He immediately wrote off a letter demanding certain things, so this has political and legal implications, and, of course, my immediate reaction was, “Do we really need the Senate involved this quickly?” Maybe if they had to change some laws or something, that might be different, but this is a sort of investigation. I just want to read a couple of words that he used in the letter, he said he wants “a full account of how the company operates the trending topics feed, a list of popular news stories, personalized to individual tastes that appear on their website. Facebook must answer these questions and hold those responsible to account if there has been political bias in this trading”.

Of course, we want to talk about that, and that is important. But really, is it ready for the politicians to come down and have an investigation and put restrictions on it. My immediate reaction was that, “No, we don’t need regulation on that, but we do need an understanding of exactly what’s going on”. And maybe some laws at the state level and maybe the marketplace and maybe public opinion can handle this without getting hysterical about it.

Daniel McAdams: I wonder if Senator Thune has sent a similar letter to Roger Ailes of Fox News demanding that he disclose the political bias. It is such a joke, and I think this is how Congress is driven. As you know, if you see something in the headlines, you got to jump, because that will give you camera time.

Ron Paul: Yes, and they would argue that, well, Fox News and MSNBC are different, everybody knows one is liberal and one is conservative, even though they all like war. But they claim they are different because they’re more upfront, and I think I’ve heard you make the point that it’s what Facebook tries to promise or imply, whether it’s a written contract or an implied contract, that says, “We’re there, and you put this up here, and what we do is we’re a platform and we help distribute it. We’re not in the business of making news”. So, if they are, is just knowing about it a good idea, or is there enough that they have deceived us, have they committed fraud by saying that they are something that they are not. It seems like that is the big question we have to try to answer.

Daniel McAdams: Indeed, and I think that’s the area, as you say, where it is important to consider. This trending news section doesn’t necessarily affect a person or a company who may use Facebook as advertising, there’s not a direct connection. We, in our various endeavors, do use Facebook to get our stories out there: The Ron Paul Institute and The Liberty Report as well, and we do use advertising. We pay for advertising on Facebook to help get the stories out better, it’s a useful tool for us. But the question then comes, as would in any situation, if over here they’re committing what may well be fraud, which is misrepresenting an objective measure of what’s trending, then what about over there where they’re telling us that they’re putting out our articles and they’re distributing them according to some algorithm that is fair to everyone.

So if they’re deceiving us over here, it makes you wonder if over here, where we’re actually paying for exposure, there might be some deception. Hopefully not, but I think that’s where there’s an opening

Ron Paul: Let’s say it’s not complex, it’s pretty clear cut, and somebody wanted to challenge them for fraud. I still am not tempted to say, “Well, we need more John Thunes in there to investigate and write more laws and know more about them and investigate them. If there’s fraud and it’s precise, there should be a challenge. It reminds me of the fraud that existed with Enron. You know, we have all these national laws and regulations all the way back to the SEC back in the 1930s, and yet, Enron was brought down on the fraud laws that were local. They were tried in Houston, Texas, and they didn’t have to have a federal trial on this. So I would think that if they’re challenged, and somebody said, “We have a case against fraud”, this probably should be a state matter, maybe in California or something like this.

This whole idea that we have to have more regulations and more controls and management and checking out and making sure you explain what we’re doing; we don’t do that with Fox News and MSNBC. We shouldn’t be doing that, but they cannot step over the boundary of saying that they’re something that they are not.

Daniel McAdams: I think far more powerful than even the Congress is the market, and the market reacted very quickly to these allegations that Facebook had anti-conservative bias, anti-libertarian bias, and I think that’s why we’re seeing that this emergency meeting between Mark Zuckerberg and 15 or so conservative leaders will take place tomorrow. I’m wondering if Mark called you up, because the Pauls were specifically named as people who had news suppressed.

Ron Paul: We didn’t get called, and I think this is very true that the market will handle this a whole lot, and it has started to handle this, from the fact that he’s trying to do something about it. I think this is also the point that, as big as he is, and as big as Facebook is, if there’s freedom to come in and compete … they say that monopolies are horrible, horrible, although most of them are from government. But the key to monopoly is, is it government mandated or is there always free entry. I would say there is still enough freedom, from my understanding, in the internet, to compete with it. We’re in the business of getting out information, and it’s very slanted. We’re upfront, we’re talking about liberty, non-interventionist foreign policy, free markets, and economic policy from the Austrian school, so we’re very much upfront in doing this.

Does that mean we have to depend on Mark Zuckerberg to get out information out? No, we don’t. Maybe they’ll start looking even more to our website, and our website is doing quite well. People who go to our website are looking for a precise form of education, explanations, news, and an interpretation of news. I don’t see how they can close that down. I think so much of what happens, when you think of a billion people going to Facebook websites and all, to me it seems superficial. It seems like the serious people of the world, the people who have ideas, the people who move things, is a small number of people. Of course, I operate with the same philosophy on home schooling, you pick a select group of people, and get them to understand. And because they are in a leadership position, they have more influence, ideas do have consequences, and you can’t stop these ideas. I don’t think even with this mess going on with Facebook right now, they’re not going to stop it, but that doesn’t mean that it should be ignored.

The other comment I made in the news that got a little bit attention, was when I said, “Yes, maybe it could just be that Facebook might have started this whole thing, because Facebook and other companies that deal with the government on national security, they went last year and they made sure that they would not be liable. They didn’t want to be liable, and therefore a lot of people thought they were really for privacy. No, they weren’t for privacy, they were for working with the government: “Just get us off the hook. You come to us, and we’ll do what you want” … not all of them, but for the most part.

And then they got exempted from this Cyber Security Bill last year, that kind of stuff is almost the starting of the fight of the overstepping of the Deep State, of the lobbyist coming in and influencing government and getting governments to do certain things. Because then that builds this collusion of big business with big government to further undermine our privacy issues. That, to me, is so much bigger than trying to figure out which stories they put up and how they might have manipulated it. I don’t like the manipulation of lobbyist working with big governments so that they can undermine our liberties by knowing everything that we do.

Daniel McAdams: I was just looking at your initial comments on that, and they got a lot of attention in the media, and it’s a great point. Now Mark Zuckerberg is probably worried that the Senate might come down hard on him in some way that will affect his business model. But, as you pointed out, be careful who you lie down with, because when it came time for the Cyber Security bill, sites like Facebook and other social media, including Google and others, were given broad authority by the federal government to monitor the social activities of their users, in exchange for immunity for being prosecuted for monitoring people that would normally be illegal. So they jumped into bed with the Deep State, and now they are concerned that the iron fist of the state may come down on them.

Ron Paul: I know how big Facebook is, and how much influence have. But I understand there are new things coming up all the time, there’s a lot of creativity out there. As long as they’re allowed to do this, and companies don’t get any special protection or special punishment. If you can punish or protect, but you can curtail activities if there’s outright fraud, of course, I’d like to curtail outright collusion between big business and big government, those are the areas we could work on. But for a politician to say, “Send me your plans on what you expect to do next week” and all this. “Okay, maybe the truth is we really are a news service”. But people aren’t going to stop, people will drift away, somebody else is going to have an option, we’ll get more people to go to our website and find out what the truth is about foreign policy and civil liberties.

Daniel McAdams: Isn’t it sort of ironic, this shows the truth about conservatives, they don’t believe in the markets, the market will decide. If people feel they are getting ripped off by Facebook intellectually, they will develop something new. But here’s Thune, a big statist really, not conservative, he wants the federal government to get involved and undermine Mark Zuckerberg.

Ron Paul: It seemed like manipulation, which obviously I believe there was some of, and both Rand Paul and myself probably suffered from it by not promoting these things. But my guess would be, that if you looked at everything that goes out on Facebook, if there’s this much going out, probably the part where […] is miniscule compared to all the chit chat that goes on and all the fun that people have on there. I know there are a lot of people who use it for family matters and they communicate with families, it really is a great idea of communication. I was always amazed about how we reconnected with people that we hadn’t talked to in 30 years, you know, high school friends and different things. We started communicating and keeping up to date, so there has been a lot of great stuff there, but there’s also the ramifications in politics, and that, of course, is where I get really turned off.

I want to thank everybody for tuning in today to visit with us today about Facebook, it’s an interesting subject, it’s very important. And like I said, I think the big deal is, is there a collusion between these social networking programs and the government to give them special privileges and not be liable for undermining our liberties and giving information to the government, which should be absolutely unconstitutional and illegal, and yet, they are participants and cannot be liable. It was good, that if they had at the time they were liable and they were very hesitant about the government doing this and invading our privacy. I thought it was great that these social network companies are for privacy, but no, they were for their own selves. As long as they’re protected, they’re okay.

This is an interesting issue, it’s an interesting political and economic issue, it has to do with civil liberties, it has to do with monopolies, but it also has to do with how do you handle problems like these. The last thing we don’t need is another federal court being involved in dealing with this, this could be handled much differently in the marketplace as well as with state laws, and that is the direction we should go in and we should try our best to keep the busybody politicians out of it, wanting to write a new law of regulation and invading the privacy of companies that don’t need invading.

I do want to thank everybody for tuning in today to The Liberty Report, please come back soon.