Conservatives question Congress's role in Facebook probe

Conservatives question Congress's role in Facebook probe
© Greg Nash

A handful of conservatives are expressing displeasure after a top Republican senator began digging into allegations of bias in Facebook's "Trending Topics" feature.

Many Republicans were concerned about reports that contractors who worked on the feature excluded some topics or stories from conservative outlets unless more mainstream organizations picked them up, which the company has denied. 

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But a number of conservatives said it is not the government’s job to get involved after Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneWill Trump sign the border deal? Here's what we know Key GOP senator pitches Trump: Funding deal a 'down payment' on wall Hillicon Valley: House panel takes on election security | DOJ watchdog eyes employee texts | Senate Dems urge regulators to block T-Mobile, Sprint deal | 'Romance scams' cost victims 3M in 2018 MORE (R-S.D.) sent a letter to the company asking questions. 

Washington Examiner managing editor Philip Klein called Thune’s letter a “ridiculous move.” Former GOP congressman-turned-radio host Joe Walsh said it is obvious Facebook has liberal bias but warned: “Conservatives don’t get government involved. That’s not what we believe.” 

National Review writer Charles C.W. Cooke published a post titled, “The Senate should leave Facebook alone.”

The article referenced the failings of the now-repealed “fairness doctrine,” which gave authority to the Federal Communication Commission to require broadcasters to cover issues of national importance in a balanced way. 

Thune, who also holds a Republican leadership role in the Senate, said the letter was not meant to suggest anything “untoward” on the part of Facebook.

“Part of the jurisdiction of our committee is consumer protection, so we think it’s a perfectly legitimate line of inquiry,” Thune said Tuesday

The libertarian-leaning group Tech Freedom had predicted an overreaction from the right. Even before Thune sent his letter, the group’s president, Berin Szoka, warned against congressional action. 

“Even if we thought Facebook actually had an axe to grind, that is not a problem for the government to solve, because they are a private company,” he said on his podcast this week. “It is up to them to do what they want. But, of course, in the marketplace of ideas, we should absolutely be able to bring pressure on them.”

He noted that Facebook, a business driven by advertising, has little incentive to suppress any side of the debate. 

He also argued public pressure from citizens and think tanks is wholly different from congressional pressure.  

“It is not hard to imagine, here, people getting really stirred up about this on the Hill and inserting themselves into how Facebook runs its business, and that could become a subtle, soft form of government control that could actually end up chilling speech online,” he said.